One Sunflower

Poem Project – entry #3 Red Bird

Red Bird            by Mary Oliver

Red bird came all winter

firing up the landscape

as nothing else could.

Of course I love the sparrows,

those dun-colored darlings,

so hungry and so many.

I am a God-fearing feeder of birds.

I know He has many children,

not all of them bold in spirit.

Still, for whatever reason –

perhaps because the winter is so long

and the sky so black-blue,

or perhaps because the heart narrows

as often as it opens –

I am grateful

that red bird comes all winter

firing up the landscape

as nothing else can do.

I was introduced to Mary Oliver’s poetry a few years ago and I’ve begun to collect her books that contain my favorites.  Her latest collection came out in 2008 and bears the title of the first poem, Red Bird.  The inscription on the flap of the book describes this collection:  “…the image of that fiery bird stays with the reader, appearing in unexpected forms and guises until, in a postscript, he explains himself.”

For me, the red bird symbolizes hope and the opening of one’s heart, flying with “bold spirit,” despite a wintry landscape.

The last poem in the book is sadder in it’s reference to the red bird.  I know that Ms. Oliver’s partner died a few years ago and I wonder if the red bird she describes in the poem Red Bird Explains Himself is about this loss.  The last verse the most poignant:

“And this was my true task, to be the

music of the body.  Do you understand?  for truly the body needs

a song, a spirit, a soul.  And no less, to make this work,

the soul has need of a body,

and I am both of the earth and I am of the inexplicable

beauty of heaven

where I fly so easily, so welcome, yes,

and this is why I have been sent, to teach this to your heart.”

  • poem project is 8.5″ x 11″
  • small photo from journal quilt

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