Every Morning Poem by Mary Oliver Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English for Students


The poem “Every Morning” is written by Mary Oliver. This poem was published in March 1986, in the “Poetry” magazine. The poem talks about a morning. The morning described in the poem is like every other morning, ordinary. This morning, the speaker is reading the daily newspaper. The paper is filled with the news of war. Early in the morning the speaker reads about the death, violence and destruction caused by war. This is shown as an everyday “ordinary” experience. The poem shows how the speaker is so detached from the reality of war that it does not phase them at all. She is bothered by it. The poem talks about the desensitization that can happen to a person when they are continuously exposed to such an environment.

About the poet

Mary Jane Oliver was born in 1935 in Ohio, United States. She was a poet. She wrote poems with the themes of nature. She was a recipient of multiple awards for her poetry including the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1984 and the Nation Book Award in the year 1992. She was hailed as the best-selling poet in 2007. She has written and published around 20 poetry collections and 6 prose works. Some of her notable works include “The Summer Day” and “When Death Comes”


The poem is written in free-verse. It has a single long stanza. The satanic consists of 29 lines.

Lines 1-10

I read the papers,

I unfold them and examine them in the sunlight.

The way the red mortars, in photographs,

arc down into the neighborhoods

like stars, the way death

combs everything into a gray rubble before

the camera moves on. What

dark part of my soul

shivers: you don’t want to know more

about this. And then: you don’t know anything


In the opening line of the poem, the speaker reflects on her routine of reading the newspapers. She picks up and starts to read the newspaper. As she unfolds the pages of the newspaper and examines the pages in the sunlight, she sees images of war. She pictures the images of red mortars falling into neighborhoods. They fall down in an arc. She compares these mortars to stars. The speaker talks about the devastating impact of death, turning everything into a gray rubble. These images are captured by the camera. Then she says that the camera moves on to photograph the next scene.

The speaker has an intense reaction to these images. In her soul she acknowledges a dark and unsettling truth about the world’s troubles. She feels a sense of discomfort when she imagines the war. This forces her to question the depth of her knowledge and the desire to shield herself from the harsh realities depicted in the news.


In these lines, the poet talks about the speaker’s morning routine of reading newspapers. This routine exposes her to the harsh realities of war depicted in the images. In the lines, the unfolding of newspapers in the sunlight is used as a metaphor for the act of revealing the truth hidden within the news and shedding light on it. The poet, by comparing the falling red mortars to the stars, highlights the contrast between the destructive force of war and the beauty associated with stars. Through the speaker’s observation of death turning everything into gray rubble, the poet emphasizes the grim aftermath of conflict.

When the poet talks about how “the camera moves on” she symbolizes how temporary the attention given to global issues is. The intense reaction within the speaker’s soul highlights the emotional impact of witnessing such scenes. The poet expresses the discomforts felt by the speaker as a commentary on the challenging balance between staying informed and the emotional toll it takes.

Lines 11-20

unless you do. How the sleepers

wake and run to the cellars,

how the children scream, their tongues

trying to swim away—

how the morning itself appears

like a slow white rose

while the figures climb over the bubbled thresholds,

move among the smashed cars, the streets

where the clanging ambulances won’t

stop all day—death and death, messy death—


In these lines of the poem, the speaker describes the chaos and panic that occurs during an attack or disaster. The speaker paints a scene where sleeping people abruptly wake up and rush to seek refuge in cellars. She talks about the children screaming, their tongues attempting to escape the fear. This intensifies the sense of alarm within the speaker. The speaker says that the morning, which would otherwise symbolize renewal, is now a slow white rose. This white rose is tainted by the impending death and destruction. She imagines people’s figures navigating through the aftermath, crossing damaged thresholds and moving amidst smashed cars and chaotic streets. She says that these people are surrounded by the never-ending sound of ambulances. She can picture the raw and unsettling reality of death and destruction.


In these lines, the poet paints a vivid picture of the aftermath of a disaster or attack. The chaos, panic, and urgency are strongly felt as people awaken abruptly and seek shelter in cellars. The image of children screaming adds a layer of distress to the scene. She uses the metaphor of the morning appearing like a slow white rose, tainted by impending tragedy, to highlight the contrast between the natural order of renewal and the disruptive force of calamity.

The figures navigating through the aftermath, crossing damaged thresholds, and moving amidst smashed cars brings out a sense of desolation and destruction. The recurring sound of ambulances underscores the relentless cycle of death and the chaotic aftermath. The poet uses powerful imagery and metaphors to convey the raw reality of tragedy and its profound impact on the affected community. The themes explored include the sudden disruption of normalcy, the visceral impact of disaster on individuals, and the cyclical nature of tragedy. The poet employs vivid language and strong visual imagery to convey the emotional and physical toll of such events.

Lines 21-29

death as history, death as a habit—

how sometimes the camera pauses while a family

counts itself, and all of them are alive,

their mouths dry caves of wordlessness

in the smudged moons of their faces,

a craziness we have so far no name for—

all this I read in the papers,

in the sunlight,

I read with my cold, sharp eyes.


In the concluding lines of the poem, the speaker contemplates death as both a historical occurrence and a recurring habit. The camera, as a symbol of documentation, captures moments when families pause to count themselves. In these instances, the family members are alive, yet their mouths are described as “dry caves of wordlessness.” This evokes a sense of profound silence and unspoken emotions within the family. The speaker acknowledges a certain kind of madness in these captured moments, a phenomenon that lacks a precise name. All this information is gleaned from the newspapers, read by the speaker in the sunlight with her cold, sharp eyes. The speaker appears to grapple with the complexities of life and death.


In these lines, the poet delves into the dual nature of death, viewing it as both a historical phenomenon and a recurring pattern in human existence. The camera serves as a powerful metaphor for documentation, capturing moments when families pause to account for their members. Despite being alive, the family members are depicted with mouths as “dry caves of wordlessness,” suggesting a profound speechlessness in the face of the documented realities.

The poet introduces an element of madness in these captured moments, emphasizing the emotional complexity of such scenes. The lack of a precise name for this phenomenon adds to its enigmatic nature. The information about life and death is acquired through newspapers, and the act of reading takes place in the sunlight with the speaker’s cold, sharp eyes. This signifies a detached yet keen observation of the stark realities mediated through the lens of media. The poem explores themes of desensitization to tragedy, the impact of media on perception, and the silent complexities within human experience. The poet uses vivid imagery and metaphorical language to convey the profound and unsettling aspects of the human condition.