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Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays

4.36 of 5 stars 4.36  ·  rating details  ·  495 ratings  ·  57 reviews
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 that have never before been collected. She adds two beautifully crafted essays, "Owls," se ...more
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Published September 30th 2003 by Beacon Press (first published 2003)
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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
...more
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
...more
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
...more
Derek Emerson
Mary Oliver’s gift of making you look anew at nature is well documented. Still, I approached Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays, with some trepidation. Was this compilation of poems about birds just a slick packaging/re-marketing of her previous work? It could be, but of the 26 poems appearing here, 10 have never been collected. In addition to the poems are two outstanding essays, including one written for this collection.

I’m not a birder — I can pick out the main ones, but my wife and t
...more
Veronica
This is a collection of poems and essays by Mary Oliver centered on birds. Owls, gulls, the crow and the catbird, the hawk, herons, thrushes, flickers, and starlings and more make their feathery appearances here.

I love how Oliver takes small, simple observations of her surroundings and transforms them to something profound. The hawk becomes the knife, the marsh grasses are the wings of the herons who died there, and the geese teach us about having a place in "the family of life."

The essay "Bir
...more
Paul Wunderlich
It was looking for pictures of owls that I found one of Marry Oliver's poems. I was struck by the imagery she portrays and by the mouth-dropping metaphors and almost seamless way of making you flow with the read.

She has particularly two details that I appreciate very much from her writing.

1.) She plays vividly with light and darkness, creating an assorted array of contrasts that lets you intake the imagery as if you were there, watching what she did when she was struck by the arrow of poetic thi
...more
Trisha
I thought I owned every book Mary Oliver has ever written, but when I spotted this at the library I found out I had missed one. It’s a beautiful collection of poems about birds like the wild geese “. . .high in the clean blue air” that call to us “. . .over and over announcing. . .” our place in the family of things. Like all her poems these remind us of what can happen when we pay close attention to nature, in this case the beautifully feathered things of the world like goldfinches, hawks, hero ...more
Katharine Holden
Loved the essay "Bird" so much I want to hand it around to people I know.
Jean-Paul
a singular voice to be cherished
Áine
Vocab:

browse-noun-tender shoots or twigs of shrubs and trees as food for cattle, deer, etc.

stippled-adjective-having a pattern of dots

aortal-adjective-[C16: from New Latin, from Greek aortē, literally: something lifted, from aeirein to raise] something hung, carried; akin to aeírein to lift, carry (dictionary.com)

Excerpt from "Long Afternoon at the Edge of Little Sister Pond"

"and so many mysteries
beautiful as eggs in a nest,
still unhatched

though warm and watched over
by something I have never
...more
Valerie
Mary Oliver is certainly a name to know when it comes to modern poetry. Her work is new, but she writes as an old soul. Owls and Other Fantasies is a prime example.

Reading Oliver's work reminded me of reading Emerson or Whitman. She has that deep appreciation of nature. Oliver looks at the beauty around her a bit deeper than most people do. For example she writes in her poem "Spring," "...My, in his/black-feckled vest, bay body with/red trim and sudden chrome/underwings, his is/dapper..." Her d
...more
Emily Crow
To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work. --Mary Oliver

Although slender, Owls and Other Fantasies is a solid collection of poems and essays about birds. There is a wistful tone permeating these selections, although both birds and poet are grounded in their "place in the family of things," as the first poem, "Wild Geese," states.

But where is that place? In poems like "Catbird" and "Crow," the bird's world and that of the poet are too different for any real connection, beyond the poet
...more
Kristine
"White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field"
Coming down out of the freezing sky with its depths of light, 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 wings--five feet apart--and the grabbing thrust of its feet, and the indentation of what had been running through the white valleys of the snow--and then it rose, gracefully, and flew back to the frozen marshes, to lurk there, like a
...more
Nancy McKinley
I'd like to think that I think like Mary Oliver. Her words and the images they so artfully evoke speak to me as if they were coming from inside my own head. I however cannot express such eloquence in poetry as she. I am inspired by her work and this collection is no exception.
I was so moved by some of these poems that tears came to my eyes. Oh, I understand them so. What a delight and a treat.
Mary Oliver must be my favorite poet. Excellence at it's best. Very enjoyable.
Julie
Another cruise ship library find. I seem to always read Mary Oliver poems outdoors, which is the best place to soak in her words about birds and the water and the natural world. So there I was, on the deck of the Emerald Princess, under the Caribbean sun, reading poems that once again reassure me that all we need is right here in this living, breathing, beautiful world. She has a line that asks something like, If you don't mind a little death here and there, how could you have one day in your li ...more
Jillian Brady
A perfect little collection. "Bird" is a wonderful essay that I just want to crawl into and stay. Also, "Starlings in Winter," is full of noble things.
Karen Maskarinec
Read again? Absolutely. Any day, anywhere.
Alan
A wonderful collection of poetry, especially for bird lovers.
Joanna
I'm not naturally into poetry, but I took my time with this book and read one poem or essay out loud to myself each night and found I enjoyed the pictures rolling off my tongue. A few of them were so lyrical I copied them into my journal and these were my favorites: Such Singing in the Wild Branches; While I am Writing a Poem to Celebrate Summer, the Meadowlark Begins to Sing; Catbird; White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field (the most moving one in the book, I think).
max
Some of these poems are exemplary for their close observation of nature, economic language, and direct sentiment unburdened by heavy intellection or rhetoric. But other poems are sentimental and cannot be saved even by the lively line and timely voltas. When she touches explicitly on spirituality or religious faith, her defenses of faith are poignant but not profound or successful.

Most of the essays are admirable for their prose, but never equal to her poetry.
Janessa
A beautiful, beautiful book. Oliver takes a moment in nature, breathes her own insight and reflection into it, and makes the moment both timeless and universal. Her love and empathy for birds infuse her poems and essays with a vibrancy that makes me want to head outdoors and take a cool walk along a wooded pond. A favorite quote from the poem, "Wild Geese": "Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination."
Etta Mcquade
Because my friend Linda Butler and I care about birds, she loaned me this genuine and moving book of poetry which introduced me to Mary Oliver. As I read, I know the birds she writes about, I feel her connection to the natural world, and I experience "heavenly hurt" (Emily Dickinson. My favorites, at this moment, are "Bird," an essay on a wounded black-backed gull which the author nurses, and "Backyard," the Afterword. I must own this book.
Jessie
Readers may recognize many of Oliver's poems from previous publications. Yet they are laid out here interspersed with vivid memoir and essays that verge on poetry themselves to reflect the sweep of seasons. A book to read for respite as well as inspiration, it offers a literary journey not only through the flora and fauna of the Provincelands where Oliver lives, but also through her powerful and spiritual responses.
Andrea
Aug 30, 2007 Andrea rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who like birds and words
This book is kicking around my room on the tops of various stacks of books: I love to just pick it up when I'm in the mood for something beautiful and fairly easy to digest. I like the way it's organized by title as though it were a reference book, but when you read the section about Owl it's not the information you expected, it's the information you wanted. I am left with images of blood, feathers, talons.
Mads P.


This had a few good poems and prose, but it is not my favorite collection by Mary Oliver. Many of the poems started with the birds, anthropomorphizing them, and then making some connection to an aspect of the poet's life at the end. It felt a bit trite and formulaic after a while, as well as limited in perspective. There are a few gems, though, and of course I like the subject matter.
Hundeschlitten
I stumbled upon this thin volume of poetry and short prose at the neighborhood storefront library, and it has proved an unexpected pleasure. The writing is simple, taut, but rich with imagery, and Oliver is a master at a slight-of-hand where she shifts the theme from a bird she is watching to the joys and despair of life.
Lindsey
Oliver's zen like lines are masterful in conveying nature's spaciousness and the lives of every creature in it. The reverence with which she writes makes the reader stop and appreciate the world around them and the endless sea of moments through which we live. I love this book. It is a new favorite!
Sue
OwlS & Other Fantasies is another dazzling poetry collection by one of America"s best poets ever. This book contains chiefly bird poems & it is beautiful. There's a poem in it that is called Herons in Winter in the Frozen Marsh that practically took my breath away. Read it & see if you don't agree.i
Dana
My favorite poems from this collection are Wild Geese and The Kookaburras. They are haunting and beautiful. They touched my heart, pricked it even.

I discovered Mary Oliver's lovely poetry in the pages of Beth Kephart's young adult book, Undercover , and I am forever grateful.
Allison
Not Oliver's greatest. The essay "Bird" is lovely, and the poem "Starlings in Winter" is powerful. Overall, though, many of the poems feel unfinished and even occasionally clunky, as if Oliver had only reached the halfway point of the proper drafting/revision process.
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

“Mary Oliver. In a region that has produced most of the nation's poet laureates, it is risky to single out one fragile 71-year-old bard of Provincetown. But Mary Oliver, who won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 1983, is my choice for her joyous, accessible, intimate observati
...more
More about Mary Oliver...
New and Selected Poems, Vol. 1 A Thousand Mornings Why I Wake Early American Primitive Thirst

Share This Book

“I want to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.”
586 likes
“maybe death
isn't darkness, after all,
but so much light
wrapping itself around us--”
152 likes
More quotes…