a darker music...

from my anthology of must read (a)merican poems

Mary Oliver

The Swan

Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air -
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
Into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A shrill dark music - like the rain pelting the trees - like a waterfall
Knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds -
A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?


I’ve always admired Oliver as a poet who balances the fragile connection between earth and being. Landscape in her poetry is a living presence – with voice & soul & thought – and all the creatures that move along that presence attach themselves to the reader’s living nature. I’m no longer human – but am something larger, something real and alive – moving within a real world.

“The Swan,” which originally appeared in The Paris Review, is a poem that opens me into another side of self, another side of living. Oliver continually focuses the work on points of various connections:

on the black river

rising into the silvery air

like the rain pelting the trees

a waterfall / Knifing down the black ledges

Streaming across the sky
These lines become a way – a gliding – into something quite new for the reader. Oliver writes: “And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?” For transformation to be complete, all the shadowy parts of being – the music, the black ledges, a bank of lilies, the stretching light, rain, waterfall, bondage of wings – must be touched.

The swan, as both mythic being and real creature, becomes my moment, my reflection – Or, if I open myself just a bit, maybe I’m the reflection. To learn beauty, to change, to feel the drift of my own life as it cuts into the day. My river. My beak. My dark music.


suzanne said...

Beautiful reading of this poem, Sam. One of my favorite of Oliver's. And what a way to start the morning! Thank you.

Sam of the ten thousand things said...

Thanks so much Suzanne. Oliver is a poet I turn to a great deal.