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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Poetry Friday--"The Mockingbird"

I was getting ready to send A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver [811.54 OLI] out on interlibrary loan to another New Hampshire Library. As I flipped through, this poem caught my eye:

The Mockingbird
by Mary Oliver

All summer
the mockingbird
in his pearl-gray coat
and his white-windowed sings

from the hedge to the top of the pine
and begins to sing, but it’s neither
lilting nor lovely,

for he is the thief of other sound–
whistles and truck brakes and dry hinges
plus all the songs
of other birds in his neighborhood;

mimicking and elaborating,
he sings with humbor and bravado,
so I have to wait a long time
for the softer voice of his own life

to come through. He begins
by giving up all his usual flutter
and settling down on the pine’s forelock
then looking around

as though to make sure he’s alone;
then he slaps each wing against his breast,
where his heart is,
and copying nothing, begins

easing into it
as though it was not half so easy
as rollicking,
as though his subject now

was his true self,
which of course was as dark and secret
as anyone else’s,
and it was too hard–

perhaps you understand–
to speak or to sing it
to anything or anyone
but the sky.
When I lived in New York, I saw catbirds, but never a mockingbird. When I moved to this area, what looked to be a catbird-shaped bird, I soon found out was a Northern Mockingbird. The difference between the songs of the two birds is unmistakeable, especially with the Gray Catbird's cat-like call. I now love mockingbirds, but I've never seen a catbird around here and I miss their "mew."

Fellow librarian, Jone, is hosting the Poetry Friday Round-Up at Check It Out!

Photo by Jack Wolf.


  1. Anonymous2:43 PM

    Ah, such a treat in poetry & birdsong, for one who sees & hears the southern mocker.
    Appreciations for this. I haven't listened to bird sounds at the Cornell Lab in ages - it's a mighty call, the catbird has. I also listened to your Northern Mockingbird & here is that link


    And Mary Oliver's observation, so spot on.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a link!

  2. I love the way Oliver notices, and weaves some universal truth into her finely attuned observations of the natural life. I love Mary Oliver!

    1. "Finely attuned observations" is absolutely correct, Tara.