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Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays

4.35  ·  Rating details ·  872 ratings  ·  113 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 original to this volume. She adds two beautifully crafted essays, "Owls," selected for th ...more
Paperback, 88 pages
Published April 1st 2006 by Beacon Press (first published 2003)
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4.35  · 
Rating details
 ·  872 ratings  ·  113 reviews

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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 ...more
Peycho Kanev
May 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry

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
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,
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
Feb 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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.
Sarah Ansani
Jan 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
Jee Koh
Mar 27, 2013 rated it did not like it
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
Aug 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
I think you all already know how much I love Mary Oliver. These poems, and especially the essays, are wonderful.
Carolanne Deaton
Mar 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
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.]
Joshua Gross
Jan 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
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.
Ashley Ford
A few poems at night before bed...Mary Oliver is a master.
Jan 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019, poetry
One of my favorite poets, one of her favorite animals.
Dec 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, environment
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.
Dec 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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.
Mark Robison
Nov 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Aug 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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. ...more
Jan 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
. . . 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
Katharine Holden
Sep 06, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Loved the essay "Bird" so much I want to hand it around to people I know.
Nov 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A magnificent anthology. This is one of two collections by Mary Oliver long looked forward to that finally arrived on my doorstep. I meant to read only one or two poems, but instead settled in for the whole book. Poetry and essays and lovely prose in this and other recently read volumes have all signaled a shift to a more meditative state of looking inward as I reflect on the beauty of life and even death as the year draws to a close. The bit of unexpected whimsy swirling throughout perfectly ti ...more
Jan 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Poems about birds, charming. This collection contains the classic Wild Geese, as well as a few essays that fall somewhere in between prose and poetry. I especially liked the essays in this collection because I thought they kept it from feeling too repetitive, and Bird in particular was lovely. I liked The Kookaburras and The Loon on Oak-Head Pond as well.

The world where the owl is endlessly hungry and endlessly on the hunt it the world in which I live too. There is only one world.


you com
Feb 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
I am not sure how to review a book of poetry. I like to read fast and find that poetry takes a bit of time and a little more concentration - or you are just skimming, which seems to defeat the purpose of it.

My parents are avid birders and we live in the country on a lake, so I have had experience with many birds in this book (though I still consider myself an urban person at heart).

I enjoyed this book and think it would be a nice gift for someone who thinks more deeply on birds or nature. I’m no
Jul 04, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry, read-in-2018
I so enjoy Mary Oliver and this was another great collection. I picked this up because I think owls are incredible and spent some enjoyable time with these. Favorites (I finally remembered to mark them):
Wild Geese
The Kingfisher - "how could there be a day in your whole life that doesn't have its splash of happiness?"
Little Owl Who Lives in the Orchard
White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field - "maybe death isn't darkness, after all, but so much light wrapping itself around us"
Starlings in Wi
Jim Puskas
Nov 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: prose-poetry
This slim volume, like most of Mary Oliver's works can be read in a couple of hours; but it's more effective taken in small sips, like a gently aged Madeira. Time slows down while you're savoring these little gems. Oliver seems to have adjusted her pace of life and ordered her thoughts to be in harmony with the natural world that occupies her work. This is a book to leave next to a sunny windowsill or on an old-fashioned porch swing, where you can pick it up from time to time to fill in the gaps ...more
Feb 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Once again, Mary Oliver works her magic with the brilliance of her writing. The simplicity of her writing can be considered profound and thought-provoking. Her love of nature is displayed throughout this work and most of the books she's written. This little book contains poems but also a few essays, one particular one titled "Bird" impacted me. I found it to be heart-rending for it was injected with so much pathos that it moved me to tears. For anyone who is an animal lover, at any level, you'll ...more
Karen GoatKeeper
Apr 18, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: read2018, poetry
Being a collection of free verse poems, some poems are appreciated more than others. Several describe different birds. Oliver's descriptions made me stop and think, and, yes, her description is apt and one I am glad to consider.
Free verse can be difficult to read. I found some of the phrasing in different poems detracted from the poem as the line breaks seemed awkward. Rereading the poem with breaks comfortable to me, made several much more enjoyable.
The two essays were interesting.
The book is s
Aug 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A short collection of poems and essays all dedicated to birds. Different species are lovingly observed and described. There's something about Mary Oliver's writing that makes me think of Emily Dickinson. There's a feeling of solitude, of overcast days, and scraggly trees with no leaves. I loved the essay on the wounded gull she finds and tries to rehabilitate, aware of the inevitable but denying it all the same. This book is a little treasure I'm glad I discovered.
Feb 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Per the jacket copy, "For anyone who values poetry and essays, for anyone who cares about birds, Owls and Other Fantasies will be a treasured gift; for those who love both, it will be essential reading."

Color me BOTH.

This bird-centric compilation of poems and essays by Mary Oliver is PERFECTION. And an exquisite foray into Oliver's work for those who may only have been recently introduced upon news of her recent death.
Oct 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
It’s about owls and birds but not really - life, death and everything beyond it. I’m caring for and observing them Mary Oliver comments on our fleeting human mortality. Mostly comprised of poems and a couple of essays. My favorites were the essay called “Bird” and a poem “Long Afternoon at the Edge of Little Sister Pond”
Nov 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Mary Oliver has a way of enchanting you with her well written poems. It takes you along with her to explore the beauty of the planet we usually take for granted. Her words inspires imagination, compassion, and they open your eyes to see what she sees. Beauty is every where you just have to look closely to let your imagination run wild!
Ashley Setzer
Feb 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Mother Nature could choose no better ambassador than Mary Oliver. She communicates such vast ideas of life and death in such simple, beautiful words. Reading her poems brings small details of the world around me into sharp focus, rendering something as casual as spotting an owl into a reflection on fear, oblivion, and terrifying beauty.
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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.

“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 observations of the na
“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.”
“maybe death
isn't darkness, after all,
but so much light
wrapping itself around us--”
More quotes…