Sunday, January 27, 2013



After spending my morning with a massive flock of snow geese in the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, I returned home with a vague memory of having recently read a poem about these winter visitors.  Suspecting that it might be a poem by Mary Oliver, I looked through my volumes and found the poem below in Oliver's New and Selected Poems: Volume Two (Beacon Press, 2005).  It is such a privilege, as Oliver reminds us, "to love what is lovely, and will not last!"

                                                   Snow Geese
                                                 by Mary Oliver

                        Oh, to love what is lovely, and will not last!
                              What a task
                                 to ask

                        of anything, or anyone,

                        yet it is ours,
                           and not by the century or the year, but by the hours.

                        One fall day I heard
                          above me, and above the sting of the wind, a sound
                        I did not know, and my look shot upward; it was

                        a flock of snow geese, winging it
                           faster than the ones we usually see,
                        and, being the color of snow, catching the sun

                        so they were, in part at least, golden.  I

                        held my breath
                        as we do
                        to stop time
                        when something wonderful 
                        has touched us

                        as with a match,
                        which is lit, and bright,
                        but does not hurt 
                        in the common way,

                        but delightfully, 
                        as if delight
                        were the most serious thing
                        you ever felt.

                        The geese
                        flew on,
                        I have never seen them again.

                        Maybe I will, someday, somewhere.
                        Maybe I won't.
                        It doesn't matter.
                        What matters 
                        is that, when I saw them,
                        I saw them
                        as through the veil, secretly, joyfully, clearly.

You can hear a reading of Mary Oliver's poem, "Snow Geese," by clicking on the following Youtube link:


  1. Mary Oliver is just a magical poet for me. I love the way she recreates images with words so simple yet profound. Your photographs are perfect. Beautiful.

  2. I agree, TERESA. With Mary Oliver, the simple is usually profound, and the profound is always unexpectedly simple.

  3. What a magical pairing: your photos and Oliver's poem! These photographs are extraordinary, George. When, exactly, is the date of publication of your coffee table book?

  4. Thanks for your kindness, BONNIE. I don't know if there's a coffee table book in my future, but this little online exercise called "blogging" can still be quite fun. Hope all is well with you and your family.

  5. A beautiful post in every way, George. Absolute perfection!

  6. For me, your experience of being with the snow geese itself is a poem, and your photos are a gift. The second especially should be in that book Bonnie asks about.

  7. Over the past few posts George you have introduced me to such beautiful poetry. I am having our monthly poetry meeting here at my house on Wednesday and based on your blog I am doing just American poets - so thanks for the introduction to an area I knew little about. And thanks too for the beautiful photography.

  8. Thanks, Robert. I especially like that last line of this poem, "when I saw them, I saw them, as through the veil, secretly, joyfully, clearly." That's mindfulness at work.

  9. Thanks, RUTH. I think this poem has a lot to do with mindfulness, which can often convert and otherwise mundane experience into a poem. Perhaps it's the romantic in me, but I like the idea of my life unfolding as a poem.

  10. That's wonderful, PAT. I'm delighted that you have discovered some new pleasures in our American poets. Good luck in your poetry meeting. I would be interested in knowing how that goes.

  11. The joyous flight in your photos matches quite well with the Oliver poem. I have never see snow geese, but I'm sure as Oliver did, I'd hold my breath in amazement.

  12. Thanks, BARB. May snow geese come into your life someday and add to your amazement!

  13. Replies
    1. Glad you liked this, Cait. Oliver is also a favorite poet of mine.

  14. Hmmmm. I don't think I have her on my bookshelf, but I now know I MUST! Thank you, George. And the photos are splendid... and I'm sure the noise and energy from these birds is amazing! I really must travel to the outer banks and see what NC has to offer (I keep heading towards the mountains).

  15. Oh yes, Margaret, you must definitely check out Mary Oliver's poetry. I can also assure you that you would find plenty of wonderful waterfowl on the outer banks of NC.

  16. I just purchased "Swan: Poems & Prose Poems" by Mary Oliver on my Nook. I can tuck it away in my purse and easily read it when I am out and about. I am sure, if I love her, I will HAVE to get a traditional book or two as well as I DO love a good "old fashioned" copy. Thanks.