You Are Standing at the Edge of the Woods
By Mary Oliver
You are standing at the edge of the woods
when something begins
to sing, like a waterfall
through the leaves. It is
And you are just
sinking down into your thoughts,
the sweetness of it—those chords,
those pursed twirls—when you hear
out of the same twilight
the wildest red outcry. It pitches itself
forward, it flails and scabs
all the surrounding space with such authority
you can’t tell
whether it is crying out on the
scarp of victory, with its hooked foot
dabbed into some creature that now
with snapped spine
lies on the earth—or whether
it is such a struck body itself, saying
is silent then, or perhaps
has flown away.
The dark grows darker.
in its shining white blouse,
And whatever that wild cry was
it will always remain a mystery
you have to go home now and live with,
sometimes with the ease of music, and sometimes in silence,
for the rest of your life.
I once had the experience of hearing a “wildest red outcry”, but I think of it as a blackest blue outcry. I was standing on the back porch in the middle of the night (which means I’d already gone to bed and got up later to let the dog out) when I heard the incredible, awful sound come out of the dark. I’m sure it was the sound of death. I hope it was one animal killing another because that is the most humane event I can think of to accompany the noise. And I felt peaceful enough to sleep the rest of the night. I don’t remember it with dread, just awe or something like reverence–music and silence.