What the fox knows (Grey Heron Nights 6)

Fox. Sleek streak of fire in a dull grey winter morning. Foxfire, revontulet: the Finnish name for the Northern Lights. Foxfire, after the belief that the aurora was created by foxes running so fast across the tundra that they sent up sparks and set the sky on fire. Foxfire, sometimes called ‘fairy fire’: the bioluminescence created by some species of fungi present in decaying wood.


Fox knows fire. You want to know what else fox knows? – this poem says it all. Possibly all that ever needed to be said in the entire history of the world. I can add nothing to it, and if I do nothing else this Winter Solstice, I will engrave these words on my heart.

Straight Talk from Fox

Listen says fox it is music to run
over the hills to lick
dew from the leaves to nose along
the edges of the ponds to smell the fat
ducks in their bright feathers but
far out, safe in their rafts of
sleep. It is like
music to visit the orchard, to find
the vole sucking the sweet of the apple, or the
rabbit with his fast-beating heart. Death itself
is a music. Nobody has ever come close to
writing it down, awake or in a dream. It cannot
be told. It is flesh and bones
changing shape and with good cause, mercy
is a little child beside such an invention. It is
music to wander the black back roads
outside of town no one awake or wondering
if anything miraculous is ever going to
happen, totally dumb to the fact of every
moment’s miracle. Don’t think I haven’t
peeked into windows. I see you in all your seasons
making love, arguing, talking about God
as if he were an idea instead of the grass,
instead of the stars, the rabbit caught
in one good teeth-whacking hit and brought
home to the den. What I am, and I know it, is
responsible, joyful, thankful. I would not
give my life for a thousand of yours.

Mary Oliver
From Red Bird: Poems (Beacon Press, 2008)


2 thoughts on “What the fox knows (Grey Heron Nights 6)

  1. I had never seen that poem before and what a wonder it is! “Talking about God/ as if he were an idea, instead of the grass/ instead of the stars, ”

    I became very unpopular in a religious book group a few years ago for suggesting that God is present in every blade of grass, in every living thing – even cholera, for how can there be a place where God is not..?

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed