'And when the owl stirred, a fine dust fell from its wings'

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In many cul­tur­al tra­di­tions, an encounter with an owl at night is an omi­nous sign. But here, in a poem by recent Shel­ley Memo­r­i­al Award win­ner, Arthur Sze, (first pub­lished in 1982), there is a won­der­ful trans­for­ma­tion from the pur­ple of dusk to the green of dawn that cap­tures a moment of pure opti­mism in this strange and decid­ed­ly mag­i­cal noc­tur­nal encounter between the poet and an owl.



by Arthur Sze

The path was purple in the dusk.
I saw an owl, perched,
on a branch.

And when the owl stirred, a fine dust
fell from its wings. I was
silent then. And felt

the owl quaver. And at dawn, waking,
the path was green in the
May light.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by the Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2021 by Arthur Sze, 'The Owl' from The Glass Constellation: New and Collected Poems, (Copper Canyon 2021). Poem reprinted by permission of Permissions Company, LLC and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2021 by the Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Kwame Dawes, is George W Holmes Professor of English and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner at the University of Nebraska.


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