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Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays

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Within these pages Mary Oliver collects twenty-six of her poems about the birds that have been such an important part of her life-hawks, hummingbirds, and herons; kingfishers, catbirds, and crows; swans, swallows, and, of course, the snowy owl; among a dozen others-including ten poems original to this volume. She adds two beautifully crafted essays, "Owls," selected for th Within these pages Mary Oliver collects twenty-six of her poems about the birds that have been such an important part of her life-hawks, hummingbirds, and herons; kingfishers, catbirds, and crows; swans, swallows, and, of course, the snowy owl; among a dozen others-including ten poems original to this volume. She adds two beautifully crafted essays, "Owls," selected for the Best American Essays series, and "Bird," one that will surely take its place among the classics of the genre.


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Within these pages Mary Oliver collects twenty-six of her poems about the birds that have been such an important part of her life-hawks, hummingbirds, and herons; kingfishers, catbirds, and crows; swans, swallows, and, of course, the snowy owl; among a dozen others-including ten poems original to this volume. She adds two beautifully crafted essays, "Owls," selected for th Within these pages Mary Oliver collects twenty-six of her poems about the birds that have been such an important part of her life-hawks, hummingbirds, and herons; kingfishers, catbirds, and crows; swans, swallows, and, of course, the snowy owl; among a dozen others-including ten poems original to this volume. She adds two beautifully crafted essays, "Owls," selected for the Best American Essays series, and "Bird," one that will surely take its place among the classics of the genre.

30 review for Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays

  1. 4 out of 5

    Caterina

    These poems are like random treasures that a faraway friend has collected over the years, assembled into a care package, and flown to you by old-fashioned postal mail. You dip into the box, and one by one unwrap them, anticipating delight. Some are whimsical, some intense, some meditative. All are infused with love. All are about birds in the wild --owls and great blue herons and loons, a flicker, a kingfisher and many others. Interspersed with the poems are exquisite, finely detailed drawings o These poems are like random treasures that a faraway friend has collected over the years, assembled into a care package, and flown to you by old-fashioned postal mail. You dip into the box, and one by one unwrap them, anticipating delight. Some are whimsical, some intense, some meditative. All are infused with love. All are about birds in the wild --owls and great blue herons and loons, a flicker, a kingfisher and many others. Interspersed with the poems are exquisite, finely detailed drawings of feathers from different species. They appear from their delicacy to be pencil drawings but may be some kind of delicate etching. I found no credit given to any artist anywhere in the book. Could the drawings also be Ms. Oliver's? They appear to be by a single hand. Owls and Other Fantasies was just the right title. Along with many years of close observation of wild birds in their habits and habitats reported with fresh turns of phrase, these poems are full of fantasies -- speculations on the birds’ interior lives and motivations, whimsical anthropomorphies into poets, philosophers, preachers -- and imaginations of death and life beyond. Owls — clearly the birds that most fascinate Ms. Oliver — appeared in at least two strong poems and an essay. In 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. . . . it’s not size but surge that tells us when we’re in touch with something real, and when I hear him in the orchard fluttering down the little aluminum ladder of his scream— And in White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field like an angel or a buddha with wings, it was beautiful and accurate, striking the snow and whatever was there with a force that left the imprint of the tips of its wings— leaving Mary Oliver to speculate, in the bird’s aftermath: maybe death isn’t darkness after all, but so much light wrapping itself around us— as soft as feathers— that we are instantly weary of looking, and looking, and shut our eyes, not without amazement, and let ourselves be carried, as through the translucence of mica, to the river that is without the least dapple of shadow— that is nothing but light—scalding, aortal light— in which we are washed and washed out of our bones. I find a courage of freedom here, a release of imagination — this is not how we moderns are supposed to think of death — but why not? It's a sublime vision. On the other hand, at the center of this book is a powerful and sober essay about death that turns out to be about the great intensity of life in a dying creature. On a December morning, two year ago, I brought a young, injured black-backed gull home from the beach. It was, in fact, Christmas morning, as well as bitter cold, which may account for my act. Injured gulls are common: nature’s maw receives them again implacably; almost never is rescue justified by a return to health and freedom. And neither did this gull return to health and freedom — but for quite a long time, it regained strength and lived with Mary and her partner, all the while declining, to the point where, as a mercy We tried to kill him, with sleeping pills, but he only slept for a long time … then woke with his usual brightness. The bird lived on for months, withering yet playful -- And still the eyes were full of the spices of amusement. A straightforward recounting of the experience, this essay felt to me like an anchor at the center of the book’s swirl of fantasy.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Peycho Kanev

    He was, of course, a piece of the sky. His eyes said so. This is not fact, this is the other part of knowing something, when there is no proof, but neither is there any way toward disbelief. Imagine lifting the lid from a jar and finding it filled not with darkness but with light. Bird was like that. Startling, elegant, alive. But the day we knew must come did at last, and then the non-responsiveness of his eyes was terrible. It was late February when I came downstairs, as usual, before dawn. The He was, of course, a piece of the sky. His eyes said so. This is not fact, this is the other part of knowing something, when there is no proof, but neither is there any way toward disbelief. Imagine lifting the lid from a jar and finding it filled not with darkness but with light. Bird was like that. Startling, elegant, alive. But the day we knew must come did at last, and then the non-responsiveness of his eyes was terrible. It was late February when I came downstairs, as usual, before dawn. Then returned upstairs, to M. The sweep and play of the morning was just beginning, its tender colors reaching everywhere. “The little gull has died,” I said to M., as I lifted the shades to the morning light.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Александра Огнаноска

    What I'm leaving here is merely a glimpse of Mary Oliver's peaceful poetry. Nature is a well-known friend of hers. The birds and flowers, the pebbles and stones. Her message to go outside, to let ourselves feel, to pay attention to the natural world is both insightful and inspiring. Reminds me of Emily Dickinson's poems. 🌼 "Long Afternoon at the Edge of Little Sister Pond" As for life, I’m humbled, I’m without words sufficient to say how it has been hard as flint, and soft as a spring pond, both of the What I'm leaving here is merely a glimpse of Mary Oliver's peaceful poetry. Nature is a well-known friend of hers. The birds and flowers, the pebbles and stones. Her message to go outside, to let ourselves feel, to pay attention to the natural world is both insightful and inspiring. Reminds me of Emily Dickinson's poems. 🌼 "Long Afternoon at the Edge of Little Sister Pond" As for life, I’m humbled, I’m without words sufficient to say how it has been hard as flint, and soft as a spring pond, both of these and over and over, and long pale afternoons besides, and so many mysteries beautiful as eggs in a nest, still unhatched though warm and watched over by something I have never seen— a tree angel, perhaps, or a ghost of holiness. Every day I walk out into the world to be dazzled, then to be reflective. It suffices, it is all comfort— along with human love, dog love, water love, little-serpent love, sunburst love, or love for that smallest of birds flying among the scarlet flowers. There is hardly time to think about stopping, and lying down at last to the long afterlife, to the tenderness yet to come, when time will brim over the singular pond, and become forever, and we will pretend to melt away into the leaves. As for death, I can’t wait to be the hummingbird, can you? She comments on virtues through the language of birds and flowers.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Maughn Gregory

    "Every day I walk out into the world to be dazzled, then to be reflective." She does, and she teaches us how to do both. Of the hawk, she writes: "this is not something of the red fire, this is heaven's fistful of death and destruction ..." And of the crow: "... who has seen anything cleaner, bolder, more gleaming, more certain of its philosophy than the eye he turns back?" To me she writes: "Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese "Every day I walk out into the world to be dazzled, then to be reflective." She does, and she teaches us how to do both. Of the hawk, she writes: "this is not something of the red fire, this is heaven's fistful of death and destruction ..." And of the crow: "... who has seen anything cleaner, bolder, more gleaming, more certain of its philosophy than the eye he turns back?" To me she writes: "Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-- over and over announcing your place in the family of things." And: "Listen, everyone has a chance. Is it spring, is it morning? Are there trees near you, and does your own soul need comforting? Quick, then--open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song may already be drifting away." And: "The catbrier is without fault. The water thrushes, down among the sloppy rocks, are going crazy with happiness. Imagination is better than a sharp instrument. To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work." I'm off then, to do some of that good work.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Book2Dragon

    What can I say? It's Mary Oliver, it's all birds and ponds and joy in life. Joy in spite of the spector of death, in spite of losing loved ones, in spite of a difficult past. Because all of those things are temporary and of the mind/body. But joy in life and nature is in the Spirit, and nothing can touch the spirit unless we allow it. Mary made the choice years ago not to allow it, and that has blessed all of us who read her poetry. I feel I have sat near her at the pond, on the shore and in the What can I say? It's Mary Oliver, it's all birds and ponds and joy in life. Joy in spite of the spector of death, in spite of losing loved ones, in spite of a difficult past. Because all of those things are temporary and of the mind/body. But joy in life and nature is in the Spirit, and nothing can touch the spirit unless we allow it. Mary made the choice years ago not to allow it, and that has blessed all of us who read her poetry. I feel I have sat near her at the pond, on the shore and in the woods. Reading her poems, I can hear the call and songs of the birds, feel the movement of air as wings brush by me, become part of what is eternal. We miss you Mary. "If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love you very much."~~Mary Oliver, Swan: Poems and Prose Poems

  6. 5 out of 5

    Denny

    Poems and two essays about birds. This poet really knows how to turn a phrase. Never mind that he is only a memo from the offices of fear. I know this bird. If it could,it would eat the whole world.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin Conlon

    Such a beautiful collection, about Oliver's connection with the birds in her life. Mary always makes me want to notice more, until I am full of knowing.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Eunice Moral

    Ultimate fave is the poem Wild Geese!

  9. 5 out of 5

    David J

    I think you all already know how much I love Mary Oliver. These poems, and especially the essays, are wonderful.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jane Glossil

    Such dazzling imagery. Mary Oliver's gift is to transport you to where she had been and what she had noticed. She lends you her eyes and her experience through her poetry. She wakes you from an emotionless slumber into the light of day, or in this book, to see life and death through the birds. - Had to read one today. Happy birthday, Mary Oliver!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Ansani

    Mary Oliver--a follower of spirit animals, is my spirit animal. In this book, she muses on the feathered menagerie near her home [at that time]. When some equate owls with omens, she equates them with blood-lust and duty. A flying, clawed, downy vehicle of purposed living. The "other fantasies" within this slim volume include the dipping and rising starlings, and my favorite poem, about the Catbird. "For he will never sing for the kingdom of dollars. For he will never grow pockets in his gray win Mary Oliver--a follower of spirit animals, is my spirit animal. In this book, she muses on the feathered menagerie near her home [at that time]. When some equate owls with omens, she equates them with blood-lust and duty. A flying, clawed, downy vehicle of purposed living. The "other fantasies" within this slim volume include the dipping and rising starlings, and my favorite poem, about the Catbird. "For he will never sing for the kingdom of dollars. For he will never grow pockets in his gray wings."

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jee Koh

    Somebody had the bright idea of collecting Mary Oliver's bird poems, and voila! Owls and Other Fantasies was born. 16 out of 25 poems (i.e. about a third of the book) came from earlier books, as did 1 of the 2 essays. The book is obviously targeted at birders and Mary Oliver's fans; its commercial considerations overshadow whatever aesthetic merit it has. The verse is best described as pandering. Its questions are obvious, its spirituality is tinselly, its consolations cheap. The first poem of th Somebody had the bright idea of collecting Mary Oliver's bird poems, and voila! Owls and Other Fantasies was born. 16 out of 25 poems (i.e. about a third of the book) came from earlier books, as did 1 of the 2 essays. The book is obviously targeted at birders and Mary Oliver's fans; its commercial considerations overshadow whatever aesthetic merit it has. The verse is best described as pandering. Its questions are obvious, its spirituality is tinselly, its consolations cheap. The first poem of the book begins: You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. I want to shout back, "But I want to be good! I want to walk on my knees through the desert! Who are you to tell me that I don't have to?" Certainly not someone who tempts me with such an easy way out as "the world offers itself to your imagination." The cliches abound, like birds, in this collection. The earlier poems offer glimpses of an earlier power. "The Swan," from House of Light (1990) is delicate and observant, though not without its clunkers. "Little Owl Who Lives in the Orchard," from the same book, is half-in-love with death. These poems question nature as well as themselves. They do the real work of spiritual quest that the book only pretends to.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kerri Anne

    This collection found me during one of the toughest and most bittersweet weeks of this year, and like all good poetry (and nearly all of Oliver's poems), I'm so grateful for it. So many lines that sing like so many birds I love to watch fly. [Five stars for poems that will forever remind me of my connections to so many precious places, and that I'll forever connect with some of the most important people in my life.]

  14. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Barto

    Mary Oliver is a gentle lighthouse. Her curiosity and tender love for the world warmed me and brought me home.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Nayyira

    “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” This is the first I read of Mary Oliver. I fell in love. I fell in love with Wild Geese, the first time I read it I cried, and every time I picked this up to continue reading, I'd read it from the beginning all over again. I read Wild Geese probably a dozen times. “I went to China, I went to Prague; I died, and was born in the spring; I found you, and loved you, again.” I have so much love for and kinship with this little collection. I fe “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” This is the first I read of Mary Oliver. I fell in love. I fell in love with Wild Geese, the first time I read it I cried, and every time I picked this up to continue reading, I'd read it from the beginning all over again. I read Wild Geese probably a dozen times. “I went to China, I went to Prague; I died, and was born in the spring; I found you, and loved you, again.” I have so much love for and kinship with this little collection. I feel it so much, I feel it in my heart. I know the words by heart. I read Bird, I was a blubbering mess. I couldn't stop crying. Almost everything in this found a way to my soul, and I know the rest will too, sometime else when I'm rereading this. “What misery to be afraid of death. What wretchedness, to believe only in what can be proven.”

  16. 5 out of 5

    Carolanne

    I'm grateful for reading this collection because it taught me that my love of nature in poetry has changed. There were a couple places where I wanted to put the book down, but I knew that if I did, I wouldn't want to pick it back up. Oliver's poems have always intrigued me, and I have loved the poems I have read from her in the past. My recent interest in owls led me to pick up this collection while I was in D.C., and while it didn't hold my interest the entire time, I still recognize the beauty I'm grateful for reading this collection because it taught me that my love of nature in poetry has changed. There were a couple places where I wanted to put the book down, but I knew that if I did, I wouldn't want to pick it back up. Oliver's poems have always intrigued me, and I have loved the poems I have read from her in the past. My recent interest in owls led me to pick up this collection while I was in D.C., and while it didn't hold my interest the entire time, I still recognize the beauty in her writing. I could see every creature she described, and was able to see the parallels with our world. "Bird" will stay with me for awhile. If you need a happy cry, make sure you read that one.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Hizatul Akmah

    whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting - over and over announcing your place in the family of things.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ashley Ford

    A few poems at night before bed...Mary Oliver is a master.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Rowan

    One of my favorite poets, one of her favorite animals.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Gross

    I enjoyed this book a lot, especially "Wild Geese" and "Bird." I found her beautiful descriptions of nature and birds calming while I anxiously waited in a jury room, waiting to be called.

  21. 4 out of 5

    S.L. Jones

    Wonderful, as always. Sad but hopeful, never pretentious. Three quotes: "the sands in the glass stopped for a pure white moment while gravity sprinkled upward" "I think this is the prettiest world—so long as you don’t mind a little dying" "What misery to be afraid of death. What wretchedness, to believe only in what can be proven."

  22. 5 out of 5

    gash

    the wisest

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ray Zimmerman

    Fabulous

  24. 5 out of 5

    Anne

    I am happy to have spent the majority of today reading Mary Oliver’s poetry. An entire book of poetry and essays about birds. This book was made for me. I want to write one of my own.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Cynthia Nicola

    I enjoyed the essays in the book more than the poetry but a relaxing natural world read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Wayne

    ‘To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.’ - Mary Oliver, from ‘Yes! No!’ Another small collection of short gifts from a favorite. She has given us some of our best. Missing her already...

  27. 4 out of 5

    Debbie

    I don't like poetry very much, but I love Mary Oliver's poetry. Her reflections about nature are so beautiful. She makes you want to go out and take a walk in the woods.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mark Robison

    Another compilation of previously published poems and essays, with a handful of new ones, in this case all about birds. Oliver is simply amazing. She makes subjects you may not care about feel meaningful and inspiring and filled with, for lack of a better word from my atheist brain, grace. While all of the essays are short and powerful, I especially liked the one about caring for a crippled gull she found on the beach for three months one winter. She called him Bird: “He was, of course, a piece Another compilation of previously published poems and essays, with a handful of new ones, in this case all about birds. Oliver is simply amazing. She makes subjects you may not care about feel meaningful and inspiring and filled with, for lack of a better word from my atheist brain, grace. While all of the essays are short and powerful, I especially liked the one about caring for a crippled gull she found on the beach for three months one winter. She called him Bird: “He was, of course, a piece of the sky. His eyes said so. This is not fact, this is the other part of knowing something, when there is no proof, but neither is there any way toward disbelief. Imagine lifting the lid from a jar and finding it filled not with darkness but with light. Bird was like that. Startling, elegant, alive.” Of course, then he dies and rips your heart out. And here’s an excerpt from a poem flipped to at random, called “Catbird”: “Since I see him every morning, I have rewarded myself the pleasure of thinking that he knows me./ Yet never once has he answered my nod./ He seems, in fact, to find in me a kind of humor, I am so vast, uncertain and strange./ I am the one who comes and goes, and who knows why./ Will I ever understand him?/ Certainly he will never understand me, or the world I come from./ For he will never sing for the kingdom of dollars./ For he will never grow pockets in his gray wings.” Grade: A

  29. 4 out of 5

    Stacie

    Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays, by Mary Oliver, is a beautiful bird inspired collection. Oliver, a contemporary American poet, is well known for her intimate, rich descriptions of the natural world. This collection includes 26 free verse and prose poems, as well as two essays. It is a celebration of all winged, singing creatures in nature, of both their simplicity and complexity, their flight and songs. Oliver takes the time to carefully observe and understand them through her words. Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays, by Mary Oliver, is a beautiful bird inspired collection. Oliver, a contemporary American poet, is well known for her intimate, rich descriptions of the natural world. This collection includes 26 free verse and prose poems, as well as two essays. It is a celebration of all winged, singing creatures in nature, of both their simplicity and complexity, their flight and songs. Oliver takes the time to carefully observe and understand them through her words. Some of my favorites of the collection were "White Owl Flies Into & Out of the Field," "Starlings in Winter," "While I Am Writing a Poem to Celebrate Summer, the Meadowlark Begins to Sing," "The Dipper," and "The Swan." Like the birds, her words fly with ease across each page, landing in the hearts of readers who, without doubt, will be inspired by them.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Donna

    . . . so long as you don't mind a little dying, how could there be a day in your whole life that doesn't have its splash of happiness? --The Kingfisher Reading Mary Oliver's work is a sacrament and a benediction. Although the subject is birds, Owls and Other Fantasies is a sacred text that discloses the meaning of life, framing its joy and its beauty without overlooking or denying any part of it, including death. A plain-spoken poet who weaves her spells with everyday images, Oliver is accessible . . . so long as you don't mind a little dying, how could there be a day in your whole life that doesn't have its splash of happiness? --The Kingfisher Reading Mary Oliver's work is a sacrament and a benediction. Although the subject is birds, Owls and Other Fantasies is a sacred text that discloses the meaning of life, framing its joy and its beauty without overlooking or denying any part of it, including death. A plain-spoken poet who weaves her spells with everyday images, Oliver is accessible to anyone willing to put aside the mundane for a few brief moments and take a fresh look at the world.

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