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My artistic parents


Poetry readings: A Barred Owl
Richard Wilbur Poet
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A friend of mine reminded me a few years ago that many people at any rate feel that when a barred owl cries out in the woods at night, what it's saying is, 'Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all?' The 'you all', of course, is more insisted on in the south. It can also just be, 'Who cooks for you, who cooks for you?' And you have to know that to hear this poem properly. It's called A Barred Owl.

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.

Some teacher told me that one of her students had said, 'That's the poem that begins like a lullaby and ends like a nightmare', and I suppose it's a poem, it's a poem which teeters between kindness to children and the need that poetry has to embolden us by saying how things really are.


Acclaimed US poet Richard Wilbur (1921-2017) published many books and was twice awarded the Pulitzer Prize. He was less well known for creating a musical version of Voltaire's “Candide” with Bernstein and Hellman which is still produced throughout the world today.

Listeners: David Sofield

David Sofield is the Samuel Williston Professor of English at Amherst College, where he has taught the reading and writing of poetry since 1965. He is the co-editor and a contributor to Under Criticism (1998) and the author of a book of poems, Light Disguise (2003).

Tags: A Barred Owl

Duration: 1 minute, 54 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2005

Date story went live: 29 September 2010