Mockingbirds by Mary Oliver

I should really get myself a few poem books (is that what they’re called? “Poem books”?). So far, I’ve just been plugging in variations of “short poem” into Google and picking out the first one that catches my eye. I’ll add that to the list of things to buy when I’m not broke. Anyways, here’s Mockingbirds:

This morning

two mockingbirds

in the green field

were spinning and tossing


the white ribbons

of their songs

into the air.

I had nothing


better to do

than listen.

Alright, as a novice of poetry, I have quite a few questions. I’m wondering why Oliver chose to break up her lines this way, and why she chose to have two stanzas of four lines followed by one of two. Does it matter? Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe there doesn’t need to be a reason. Maybe the appeal of poetry is that you can do whatever the fuck you want and you don’t need a reason because your readers will make them up for you. If I had to guess though, I suspect she may have wanted to draw attention to the act of listening by abruptly halving the number of lines in that stanza.

I think part of my struggle with poetry comes from the somewhat mechanical way I approach things. I have a tendency to expect a purpose in every word and a reason behind every decision. I get frustrated when I don’t have ready access to these things. That frustration, I believe, is a distraction from the aspects of a poem I can appreciate. Like the word choice in describing this birdsong: “spinning and tossing the white ribbons of their songs into the air”. It’s pretty. Not only that, I think it’s clever how she describes a song with completely visual terms. I’m going to have to try that myself.

This poem seems particularly appropriate for me. It’s like Mary Oliver is telling me, “Shut up. Stop thinking so much. Just listen to the beauty in front of you.”

Noted, Mary. No need to be a dick about it. I got it.


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