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A Barred Owl

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Barred Owl
By Richard Wilbur

The warping night air having brought the boom
Of an owl’s voice into her darkened room,
We tell the wakened child that all she heard
Was an odd question from a forest bird,
Asking of us, if rightly listened to,
“Who cooks for you?” and then “Who cooks for you?”

Words, which can make our terrors bravely clear,
Can also thus domesticate a fear,
And send a small child back to sleep at night
Not listening for the sound of stealthy flight
Or dreaming of some small thing in a claw
Borne up to some dark branch and eaten raw.


I love Richard Wilbur's evocation of the myths we can spontaneously generate for our children---for ourselves. Words can indeed "domesticate a fear".
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Love the poem. I love owl but they can seem spooky at night.
    3034 days ago
  • no profile photo CD13521013
    Owls are so lovely. I have a 3 ft owl figurine in my office wearing a graduation cap and holding a diploma. He sits directly across from the seat I have students sit as his look is ominous and says, "You better work hard or you won't get this diploma!"
    The poem was lovely too. I have been recently been reminded of the child mind and the stories it makes when they are forced to make up their own truth. Luckily for this child a parent or sibling had a story to assuage the child's fears.
    3038 days ago
  • no profile photo CD13231517
    I am an Owl lover. I generally leave the window above my bed open, regardless of weather, in no small part because of Owl activity. Years when Great Horned Owls nest in the vicinity there are no Barred Owls or little Screech Owls, but there are also no Skunks. (The Great Horned Owl is about the only predator the Skunk has. Old fashioned Natural History museums with stuffed Great Horned Owls have to keep them in separate glass cases because of the smell - eau de Skunk-lunch never goes away.) When I was in my mid 20's I got to night-walk white sand swamp roads with an old fiddle maker named Thomas Rackley. Thomas could summon Barred Owls. He would start calling and then we would walk a bit and he would call some more (he told wonderful stories in the interim.) When there were 8-10 Owls in the trees above us, slowly following along, Thomas would say "this really gets 'em going", sing a particular call, and the Owls would commence "laughing" - one can Google barred Owl vocalizations to find out what I am talking about, but this was in 1975 and has continued to rank highly among the top 10 experiences of my life.
    (ps - I am never sure what & when to capitalize re critters - my only rule is to be inconsistent.)
    3039 days ago
    and it is the a beautiful opposite notion to the one of scaring children (the boogey man if you don't go to sleep) etc...Thanks!
    3042 days ago
    His words do domesticate the fear for the child - and leaves the last three lines for us - like a Stephen King story.
    3042 days ago
    Marvelous poem. So true!
    3042 days ago
    On The Boy's first day of work, he tested an owl. His Christmas ornament this year from Mom was -- you guessed it!
    3042 days ago
    Lovely, evocative poem. There is an owl in our neighborhood, and we hear it hooting every night. I love the sound.
    3042 days ago
    I love owls!
    3042 days ago
    A just-so poem.
    3042 days ago
    Alas, all owl pictures have been ruined for me by hungoverowls: http://hungoverowls.tumblr.com/

    It's silly fun, but has made me unable to take any owl reference seriously. I'm completely damaged.
    3042 days ago
    Wonderful poem.
    3042 days ago
    YIKES!!!!! good one though!
    3042 days ago
    Lovely poem and pic. Thanks for posting them.
    3042 days ago
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