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Mary Oliver’s poem, “Swans,” appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review’s Winter 2008 issue. We revisit it today in honor of the poet’s birthday.

They appeared
            over the dunes, 
                        they skimmed the trees
                                    and hurried on
to the sea
            or some lonely pond
                        or wherever it is 
                                    that swans go, 
urgent, immaculate, 
            the heat of their eyes
                        staring down
                                    and then away, 
the thick spans
            of their wings
                        as bright as snow,
                                    their shoulder-power
            inside my own body.
                        How could I help but adore them?
                                    How could I help but wish
that one of them might drop
            a white feather
                        that I should have
                         something in my hand
to tell me
            that they were real?
                        Of course
                                    this was foolish.
What we love, shapely and pure,
            is not to be held,
                        but to be believed in.
                                    And then they vanished, into the untouchable distance.


Read more poems by Mary Oliver, and others, in our Archives.