'Mockingbirds' by Mary Oliver

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This morning
two mockingbirds
in the green field
were spinning and tossingthe white ribbons
of their songs
into the air.
I had nothingbetter to do
than listen.
I mean this
seriously.In Greece,
a long time ago,
an old couple
opened their doorto two strangers
who were,
it soon appeared,
not men at all,but gods.
It is my favorite story--
how the old couple
had almost nothing to givebut their willingness
to be attentive--
but for this alone
the gods loved themand blessed them--
when they rose
out of their mortal bodies,
like a million particles of waterfrom a fountain,
the light
swept into all the corners
of the cottage,and the old couple,
shaken with understanding,
bowed down--
but still they asked for nothingbut the difficult life
which they had already.
And the gods smiled, as they vanished,
clapping their great wings.Wherever it was
I was supposed to be
this morning--
whatever it was I saidI would be doing--
I was standing
at the edge of the field--
I was hurryingthrough my own soul,
opening its dark doors--
I was leaning out;
I was listening.

Editor 1 Interpretation

"Mockingbirds" by Mary Oliver: A Masterclass in Observational Poetry

Mary Oliver, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet known for her deep connection to nature, wrote "Mockingbirds" in 1995. The poem is a beautiful tribute to the titular bird and its distinctive song. Through her impeccable use of imagery and figurative language, Oliver celebrates the beauty and resilience of this little bird, and the power of its voice.

The Mockingbird's Song

"Mockingbirds" begins with Oliver's reflection on the bird's song. She describes it as "an ecstatic sound, / Soaring all summer / Over the fields and the woods." The use of the word "ecstatic" immediately sets the tone for the poem, conveying the joy and energy that the bird's song brings. The image of the bird soaring over the fields and woods is also powerful, evoking a sense of freedom and wildness.

Oliver then goes on to describe the bird's ability to mimic the songs of other birds, and even other sounds in its environment. She writes, "Is it a poem / Or a machine? / Is it a loved one / Or just a feeder?" These lines capture the mystery and complexity of the bird's song, and suggest that it may be both a natural expression of the bird's joy and a learned behavior.

The Mockingbird's Resilience

Oliver then shifts her focus to the mockingbird's physical resilience. She describes how the bird "never rests, / And eats little." This is a testament to the bird's strength and endurance, and suggests that it is able to survive in harsh environments where other birds may struggle. Oliver also notes that the bird is "quick, precocious, / And indefatigable." These words convey a sense of energy and determination that is both admirable and inspiring.

The poem then takes a darker turn, as Oliver describes the dangers that the mockingbird faces. She writes, "In the blue fields, / In the cool, / And moist wings of the woods, / The mockingbird / At last finds rest." The use of the word "at last" suggests that finding rest is a rare occurrence for the bird, and that it must constantly be on guard against predators and other threats.

The Mockingbird's Legacy

Despite these challenges, Oliver concludes the poem on a hopeful note. She writes, "But the rest of the time / He sings, and is free, / And is justly so." These lines suggest that even in the midst of adversity, the mockingbird is able to find joy and freedom through its song. Oliver also seems to be suggesting that the bird's legacy lives on through its song, which continues to inspire and delight those who hear it.

Interpretation and Analysis

At its core, "Mockingbirds" is a poem about the power of nature and the resilience of living things. Through her vivid descriptions of the mockingbird's song and its physical attributes, Oliver celebrates the beauty and wonder of the natural world. However, the poem also acknowledges the dangers and challenges that living creatures face, and suggests that it is through their resilience and determination that they are able to survive.

One of the key themes of the poem is the idea of mimicry. The mockingbird's ability to mimic the songs of other birds and the sounds of its environment is a metaphor for the complexity and diversity of the natural world. It also suggests that learning and adaptation are key to survival in the natural world.

Another important theme of the poem is the idea of freedom. Oliver uses the mockingbird's song as a symbol of freedom and joy, suggesting that even in the face of adversity, living creatures are able to find moments of happiness and beauty. The poem also suggests that the legacy of these moments of joy and freedom lives on, inspiring others long after the creature itself has passed.


"Mockingbirds" is a beautiful tribute to the resilience and beauty of the natural world. Through her expert use of language and imagery, Oliver captures the complexity and wonder of the mockingbird, and suggests that even in the face of adversity, nature is able to inspire and delight us. The poem is a masterclass in observational poetry, and a testament to Oliver's talent as a poet. It is a powerful reminder of the importance of preserving and protecting the natural world, and a celebration of the incredible beauty and resilience of the creatures that inhabit it.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Mockingbirds: A Masterpiece by Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, is known for her profound and insightful poems that capture the beauty and essence of nature. Her poem, "Mockingbirds," is a classic example of her exceptional talent for weaving together the natural world and human experience.

"Mockingbirds" is a poem that explores the theme of identity and the struggle to find one's place in the world. The poem is written in free verse, with no set rhyme or meter, which gives it a natural and organic feel. The poem is divided into three stanzas, each with its own distinct tone and message.

The first stanza sets the scene and introduces the mockingbirds. Oliver describes the birds as "two mockingbirds / in the green field," and immediately creates a sense of peace and tranquility. The birds are a symbol of freedom and joy, and their song fills the air with a sense of hope and possibility.

The second stanza shifts the focus to the speaker's own struggles with identity. Oliver writes, "I wanted to be like them," referring to the mockingbirds. The speaker longs to be free and unencumbered, to sing without fear or inhibition. However, the speaker is also aware of the limitations of their own identity, writing, "but I have such reverence for my own voice / that I cannot speak / or sing / just any words."

This stanza is a powerful reflection on the struggle to find one's own voice and identity. The speaker is torn between the desire to be like the mockingbirds, free and unencumbered, and the need to honor their own unique identity. The stanza is a reminder that finding one's place in the world is not always easy, and that it requires a deep understanding of oneself.

The final stanza brings the poem to a close, with the speaker acknowledging the beauty and power of the mockingbirds' song. Oliver writes, "It is not simply a matter of beauty, it is also a matter of / survival, the capacity to live in a world / where death is always so close / to the body and to the things we love."

This stanza is a powerful reflection on the role of art and beauty in our lives. The mockingbirds' song is not just a beautiful sound, but a reminder of the resilience and strength required to survive in a world that is often harsh and unforgiving. The stanza is a reminder that art and beauty have the power to sustain us, to give us hope and strength in the face of adversity.

Overall, "Mockingbirds" is a powerful and insightful poem that explores the themes of identity, freedom, and the power of art and beauty. Oliver's use of language is masterful, and her ability to weave together the natural world and human experience is unparalleled. The poem is a testament to the power of poetry to capture the essence of our lives and to help us make sense of the world around us.

In conclusion, "Mockingbirds" is a masterpiece of modern poetry, and a testament to Mary Oliver's exceptional talent and insight. The poem is a reminder that finding one's place in the world is not always easy, but that art and beauty have the power to sustain us and give us hope. It is a poem that will continue to inspire and move readers for generations to come.

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