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A Wintry Poem: “White-Eyes” by Mary Oliver

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Winter and the holidays are upon us, which we know can be a complex time full of cheer, traditions, travel delays, reunions, heavy meals and sweet treats, and some truly bitter cold weather (for those of us traveling to the Midwest, for example). No matter where you are or how you’re celebrating, we hope you’ll take a moment to slow down and give the gift of reading poetry—to yourself, to your loved ones, or even to strangers in airports.

Here’s a poem by Mary Oliver, via our Poetry 180 treasure trove, to help you get into a wintry state of mind.


In winter
    all the singing is in
         the tops of the trees
             where the wind-bird

with its white eyes
    shoves and pushes
         among the branches.
             Like any of us

he wants to go to sleep,
    but he’s restless—
         he has an idea,
             and slowly it unfolds

from under his beating wings
    as long as he stays awake.
         But his big, round music, after all,
             is too breathy to last.

So, it’s over.
    In the pine-crown
         he makes his nest,
             he’s done all he can.

I don’t know the name of this bird,
    I only imagine his glittering beak
         tucked in a white wing
             while the clouds—

which he has summoned
    from the north—
         which he has taught
             to be mild, and silent—

thicken, and begin to fall
    into the world below
         like stars, or the feathers
             of some unimaginable bird

that loves us,
    that is asleep now, and silent—
         that has turned itself
             into snow.

—Mary Oliver (from POETRY, Oct-Nov 2002, with permission.)

Happy holidays, and may your winter beginnings be bright and cozy! What are your favorite winter or holiday poems?

Comments (2)

  1. She is a favorite. This poem is just right for now. Thank you for selecting it and sharing it.

    I’m a fan of Project 180. I’ve been enjoying it since pretty much its inception.

    Happy Holidays!

  2. A very wonderful and heartwarming poem on a cold snowy winter. Beautiful loved it!

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