Posts Tagged ‘Mary Oliver’

“The Dipper” by Mary Oliver

AmericanDipper

Once I saw
in a quick-falling, white-veined stream,
among the leafed islands of the wet rocks,
a small bird, and knew it

from the pages of a book; it was
the dipper, and dipping he was,
as well as, sometimes, on a rock-peak, starting up
the clear, strong pipe of his voice; at this,

there being no words to transcribe, I had to
bend forward, as it were,
into his frame of mind, catching
everything I could in the tone,

cadence, sweetness, and briskness
of his affirmative report.
Though not by words, it was
a more than satisfactory way to the

bridge of understanding. This happened
in Colorado
more than half a century ago—
more, certainly, than half my lifetime ago—

and, just as certainly, he has been sleeping for decades
in the leaves beside the stream,
his crumble of white bones, his curl of flesh
comfortable even so.

And still I hear him—
and whenever I open the ponderous book of riddles
he sits with his black feet hooked to the page,
his eyes cheerful, still burning with water-love—

and thus the world is full of leaves and feathers,
and comfort, and instruction. I do not even remember
your name, great river,
but since that hour I have lived

simply,
in the joy of the body as full and clear
as falling water; the pleasures of the mind
like a dark bird dipping in and out, tasting and singing.

Mary Oliver

Note: On Thursday, July 6th, I gave a poetry reading at the John Natsoulas Gallery in downtown Davis. Afterwards, I was pleased to sit down and talk with Steve, a poet and a bird-watcher like myself. He mentioned this poem, “The Dipper,” by Mary Oliver in our conversation. Mary Oliver first saw the bird in Colorado, where Steve had also seen it. Though I have lived in Colorado, I have not yet seen the American Dipper in situ, bobbing and fishing in nature’s favorite stream. However, I have had a preview! The little bird is simply delightful.

p.s. John Muir loved the bird, which he called a water-thrush. He wrote of it: “THE waterfalls of the Sierra are frequented by only one bird, —the Ouzel or Water Thrush ( Cinclus Mexicanus). He is a singularly joyous and lovable little fellow, about the size of a robin, clad in a plain waterproof suit of bluish gray, with a tinge of chocolate on the head and shoulders. In form he is about as smoothly plump and compact as a pebble that has been whirled in a pot-hole, the flowing contour of his body being interrupted only by his strong feet and bill, the crisp wing-tips, and the up-slanted wren-like tail.”

From Mary Oliver’s “Little Owl Who Lives in the Orchard”

His beak could open a bottle,
and his eyes – when he lifts their soft lids –
go on reading something
just beyond your shoulder –
Blake, maybe,
or the Book of Revelation.

Mary Oliver
from “Little Owl Who Lives in the Orchard