Red Bird

Mary Oliver


Oliver, Mary. Red Bird. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2009. Paperback: 9780807068939.


“Mary Oliver’s twelfth book of poetry, Red Bird comprises sixty-one poems, the most ever in a single volume of her work. Overflowing with her keen obseration of the natural world and her gratitude for its gifts, for the many people she has loved in her seventy years, as well as for her disobedient dog Percy, Red Bird is a quintessential collection of Oliver’s finest lyrics.”



“But I always think that the best way to know God is to love many things. —Vincent van Gogh”

Red Bird

“I am a God-fearing feeder of birds. / I know He has many children, / not all of them bold in spirit” (1)

Maker of All Things, Even Healings

“Maker of All Things, / including appetite, / including stealth, / including the fear that makes / all of us, sometime or other, / flee for the sake / of our small and precious lives, / let me abide in your shadow— / let me hold on / to the edge of your robe / as you determine / what you must let be lost / and what will be saved” (4-5)


“Someday we’ll live in the sky. / Meanwhile, the house of our lives is this green world. / The fields, the ponds, the birds. / The thick black oaks—surely they are / the invention of something wonderful” (10)

Straight Talk from Fox

“Death itself / is a music. Nobody has ever come close to / writing it down, awake or in a dream. It cannot / be told. It is flesh and bones / changing shape” (11)

Another Everyday Poem

“what a puzzle it is / that such brevity— / the lavish clothes, / the ruddy food— / makes the world / so full, so good” (12-13)

Summer Story

“I am scorched / to realize once again / how many small, available things / are in this world / that aren’t / pieces of gold / or power— / that nobody owns / or could buy even / for a hillside of money” (25)

The Teachers

“I listen to those teachers, / and others too— / the wind in the trees / and the water waves— / for they are what lead me / from the dryness of self / where I labor / with the mind-steps of language— / lonely, as we al are / in the singular” (27)

Summer Morning

“Let the world / have its way with you, / luminous as it is / with mystery / and pain— / graced as it is / with the ordinary” (30)


“Instructions for living a life: / Pay attention. / Be astonished. / Tell about it” (37)

Percy (Nine)

“Emerson, I am trying to live, / as you said we must, the examined life. / But there are days I wish / there was less in my head to examine, / not to speak of the busy heart” (39)

Both Worlds

“I rise from the chair, / I put on my jacket / and leave the house / for that other world— / the first one, / the holy one— / where the trees say / nothing the toad says / nothing the dirt / says nothing and yet / what has always happened / keeps happening: / the trees flourish, / the toad leaps, / and out of the silent dirt / the blood-red roses rise” (51-52)

There you were, and it was like spring

“Why are we made the way we are made, that to love / is to want?” (72)

I will try

“I did not come into this world / to be comforted. / I came, like red bird, to sing. / But I’m not red bird, with his head-mop of flame / and the red triangle of his mouth / full of tongue and whistles, / but a woman whose love has vanished, / who thinks now, too much, of roots / and the dark places / where everything is simply holding on” (75)

Red Bird Explains Himself

“‘Yes, I was the brilliance floating over the snow / and I was the song in the summer leaves, but this was / only the first trick / I had hold of among my other mythologies, / for I also knew obedience: bringing sticks to the nest, food to the young, kisses to my bride’” (78)

“‘I was the music of your heart, that you wanted and needed, / and thus wilderness bloomed there’” (78)

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