Poetry Friday: Mary Oliver’s “Song for Autumn”

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“Attention is the beginning of devotion”
Mary Oliver

For the past week, I have been reading and savoring Upstream, Mary Oliver’s luminous new collection of essays. I am in awe of Oliver’s power of observation, her keen ear, her deft turn of phrase. In an essay on Emerson, she describes his writing as “a pleasure to the ear, and thus a tonic to the heart, at the same time that it strikes the mind.” For me, this is a description of Oliver’s own writing as well.

We had our first snow yesterday, and the everlastings and late roses were “crowned with the first tuffets of snow,” so I thought this was a particularly appropriate poem to share today.

“Song for Autumn”
Mary Oliver

Don’t you imagine the leaves dream now
how comfortable it will be to touch
the earth instead of the
nothingness of the air and the endless
freshets of wind? And don’t you think
the trees, especially those with
mossy hollows, are beginning to look for

the birds that will come–six, a dozen–to sleep
inside their bodies? And don’t you hear
the goldenrod whispering goodbye,
the everlasting being crowned with the first
tuffets of snow?

Read the rest of the poem here.

Please be sure to visit Linda at Teacher Dance for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

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11 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: Mary Oliver’s “Song for Autumn”

  1. When I was at Highlights, I loved seeing so much goldenrod, and now there in Oliver’s poem, “whispering goodbye”. She writes, as you say, for us a “tonic to the heart”. I hope I can read this new book soon! And snow, wow! We are still very warm during the day, though the mountains are getting the snow! Have a lovely cozy weekend, Catherine.

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  2. Mary Oliver is the master of evoking a feeling withing me that doesn’t exist in my reality – autumn. We’re still in the high 90’s here in Tucson. All the poems about autumn are making me swoon. Thanks for sharing this poem today, Catherine, and for reminding me that snow exists…somewhere. =)

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  3. “The wind wags its many tails” struck me too. When I read a poet who has observed carefully, I often find myself saying ‘Yes, that’s how it is!” Thanks for sharing this beautiful autumn poem.

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  4. Snow? Wow! We are still in the 80’s. I love Mary Oliver, such a master at seeing the simple things for the deep message nature offers us.

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  5. oh, my. snow! I’m not ready…I’m not READY! Fortunately, my neck of Virginia experienced a sunny 74 degree day and I have the window open.
    Song of Autumn is lovely. I can hear the sigh in it…the resignation to and into the season of rest. I love the image of the leaf looking forward to the comfort of the earth. In the end, don’t we all?

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  6. I like the quote you chose for today, ““Attention is the beginning of devotion” I also think attention of the beginning of real knowledge.

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  7. Ah, Catherine, what a beautiful poem you’ve shared today. Mary Oliver’s poems speak to me on so many levels. This one is particularly beautiful and I love the lines about the wind wagging its many tails and the field bringing out its long blue shadows. Interestingly, I found another version of this poem (on several sites on line) where the wind pumps its bellows, rather than wags its many tails, and the pond vanishes rather than stiffens.

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