What is the meaning of each stanza in the poem "White-Eyes" by Mary Oliver?
In winterall the singing is inthe tops of the treeswhere the wind-birdwith its white eyesshoves and pushesamong the branches.Like any of us (1-9)
he wants to go to sleep,but he's restless—he has an idea,and slowly it unfoldsfrom under his beating wingsas long as he stays awake.But his big, round music, after all,is too breathy to last. (10-17)
(The entire section contains 2 answers and 697 words.)
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"White Eyes" Mary Oliver
Mary Oliver is a poet steeped in the natural world, in which she finds insights to human life and by which she is refreshed and inspired. Nature is a living, breathing entity to which she gives human traits. In this poem about the beginning of winter, she imagines the season summoned by a great white bird flapping in the tops of the pine trees.
Some of the stanzas run on to the following one, as in the first four:
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.
Notice the shape of the stanzas - back and forth - copying the movement of the wind high in the trees implying that the wind comes and goes, perhaps, at the start, in sudden gusts. And "singing" in stanza one is the sound it makes, the soft swishing of the branches high up embodied in the soft "s" sound. And at the end of stanza one, the bird is the "wind-bird", but immediately in stanza two its connection to winter is made, for it has "white-eyes". Does it see the white snow coming? However, here still, the poem is about the windy signs of the beginning of winter - the bird "shoves and pushes" in the branches and we see them swaying high above driven by the wind.
In stanza three, all of this movement is characterized in the word "restless". It is the restlessness that comes before sleep, the tossing and turning in bed as we settle and find a position of comfort, it is the "idea" that "slowly unfolds". As long as the bird is awake, the wind continues caused by its "beating wings". The bird, though, runs out of energy, it cannot sustain the wind, that has grown in intensity, "big, round music" which is "too breathy", implying the creature is out of breath, breathing heavily.
Stanza five is the only one that stands alone, right in the middle of the poem:
So, it's over.
In the pine-crown
he makes his nest,
he's done all he can.
"So it's over." The wind dies down as the bird makes its nest in the top of the trees for "he's done all he can." The prelude to winter is over, the wind that will bring the clouds full of snow has done its work and so the summoning snow bird, "makes his nest".
The final four stanzas continue in the same shape as the first four, but the language, now, is soft, and silent, "white wing", "summoned", "mild", "silent", "thicken" "stars", "feathers".
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
In stanza five, the bird's "glittering beak" describes both the shiny crystals of snow it has bidden, but it is now “tucked in a white wing” whose consonant sounds describe the soft sibilance of falling snow from the "clouds". Stanza six describes these clouds which the beak, now silent, has called. They come from the, "north" from the arctic, and the clouds, unlike the summoning wind, are “mild, and silent” for the bird has “taught” them to be so.
Stanza six uses the lovely metonymy of clouds falling to describe the snowfall and conjures the white landscape of winter where sky and earth are indistinguishable and which the poet calls “world”. The snow, she says is like “stars”, evoking its glitter as the light catches the flakes, or like “feathers of some unimaginable bird” – because they are so light and so tiny and so abundant.
And stanza seven picks up on this sleeping creature who has “summoned” the clouds and “taught” them and we learn that it “loves us” and in its final act of love has “turned itself/into snow.” Snow is good, the winter season is necessary, even if it is difficult for humans and all nature. And so this bird, whose name is a mystery, “I don’t know the name of this bird”, uses its power for love of us, the poet asserts and stirs our imaginations to see not just a new season, but the magic of that season, its wonder and beauty.