Poetry About Mourning Doves

The mourning dove
wearing noon’s aureole
coos from the rhododendron,
(Excerpt from “What the Dove Sings” by Carol Frost)


The mourning dove is a year-long resident in the northeastern part of the United States. These medium-sized birds are perfectly camouflaged to blend in with their habitat. Their light brown color mixes well with the woody plants found in the transitional areas between the residential spaces and the woods. However, with all the snow on the ground, they seem quite noticeable.

The mourning dove is a member of the Columbidae family of birds.  Other birds in this family include the white-winged dove and the pigeon. Besides being called a mourning dove, this bird is also known as the American mourning dove, the rain dove, the turtle dove, and sometimes the Carolina pigeon and Carolina turtledove.(1)

Mourning doves are doing quite well as a species in the United States.  Their numbers have been increasing and it is estimated that there are close to 350 million mourning doves residing in the States. (2)

Mourning Dove by  Jessica Kriste/AllAboutBirds/Cornell University
Photo Credit: Jessica Kriste
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Poems About Mourning Doves

Mourning doves are known to be monogamous birds and are often seen in pairs or small flocks. This “friendly” behavior seems to have been the inspiration for this first poem by Joe Tessitore 

“Two Mourning Doves” by Joe Tessitore

Friendship on the promenade?
I know to some it may sound odd
but there above, two mourning doves
in the weeping willow tree!
They share their grief and find relief
in the bonds that set them free.
For tho’ he cries each time she flies
the tears of love that burn,
while they’re apart, deep in his heart
he knows she will return

Tessitore’s poem seems to be a classic love story with a happy ending.  The male dove knows the female will return!

Tessitore also mentions the soulful call of the mourning dove.  “For tho’ he cries each time she flies”, he says.  This verse is a referring to dove song that is often described as a “coo-oo” or “coo-ah, coo, coo, coo”. This song, which is only made by the male mourning dove, comes across as melancholic to the human ear.

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Galway Kinnel also reflects on the mourning dove’s call in his poem “Flower Herding on Mount Monadnock”

There is something joyous in the elegies
Of birds. They seem
Caught up in a formal delight,
Though the mourning dove whistles of despair.
(Excerpt from” Flower Herding on Mount Monadnock” by Galway Kinnell)

Carol Frost wrote another poem that also spoke of the mourning dove’s song. 

“What the Dove Sings” by Carol Frost.

The mourning dove
wearing noon’s aureole
coos from the rhododendron,
oo-waoh, shadow o-
ver what to do. Oh.
And the sad rhetoric spreads
through suburb and wood.

In these opening lines, Frost sets the stage for this dove to engage in some other-worldly activities. She concludes her poem by stating:

From no small rip in fate
the you you never shall be
more will be extracted.
Dove knows the rubric
and starts in, who,
who is next and soon?

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Suspecting that the mourning dove has a connection to something beyond our perception is nothing new. Some cultures believe that when you are visited by a mourning dove, you are being visited by the spirits of those that have passed.(6)  This idea can often bring hope and solace to someone who is struggling with loss.  

Mourning Doves on barbed wire: Photo Credit Teresa Taylor BirdsandBloome
Photo Credit: Teresa Taylor

When thinking about the dove as a symbol of hope, I can’t help but think about Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is the thing with feathers”.  Although this poem is not directly about the mourning dove, I believe that she could easily be talking about this wonderful little bird.

“Hope is the thing with feathers” (#254) by Emily Dickinson

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Do you have a favorite poem about mourning doves? Please share in the comments below. 


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Resources:

  1. Wikipedia: Mourning Dove
  2. AllAboutBirds: Mourning Dove
  3. Joe Tessitore;“Two Mourning Doves”: Classic Poets.org 
  4. Galway Kinnell; “Flower Herding on Mount Monadnock” Poetry Foundation 
  5. Carol Frost; “What the Dove Sings”: Poetry Foundation
  6. Sally Painter; Mourning Dove: Symbolism Exploring Its Peace and Power
  7. Emily Dickinson; “Hope is the thing with feathers” (254): Poets.org

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18 thoughts on “Poetry About Mourning Doves

Add yours

  1. Mark, I once co-edited a book of selected poems by W.W. Christman (1865-1937) which opened with “The Mourning Dove”:

    Sweet is the hermit’s evening bell,
    And sweet the mellow canticle
    Of the wood thrush; but more I love
    The murmur of the mourning dove.

    ‘Tis he awakes the vague unrest
    That makes one wander east and west–
    The fond, fond bird, tender and true,
    He’ll take the very heart from you.

    O whirring wings! O trembling throat
    That puts such heartbreak in a note!
    All through the woodland shadows dim,
    My heart is glad to follow him.

    O soft and low!– but I’ll no more
    Over the ferny forest floor
    At dawn or dusk to listen lest
    He pluck the heart out of my breast.

    1. Hi Walt, Thank you for adding this poem. It seems like Christman is expressing a growing appreciation for this bird. “the more I love/the murmur of the mourning dove” and “My heart is glad to follow him” are a few lines that really stand out for me. Of course, “He pluck the heart our of my breast” is pretty great too! Thanks for sharing and adding to the conversation.

    1. Hi Lisa, Yes, just the other day I looked out the window and there were four birds just hanging out in the snow. It was such a great sight. Thanks for the comment!

  2. I’m afraid the mourning doves don’t have much hope here. They come to visit in the Spring but immediately one or two get taken by the Cooper’s hawk and yet, every year they come back like they think things might be different. I suppose it will, some day.

    1. Oh no! What a bummer. And I can totally see that happening. The doves seem a like very passive birds. I bet they are easy target for the Cooper’s hawk.

  3. I’m always happy to see Mourning Doves around here. For a while, it seemed we only had the Eurasian Collared-doves which have a much less appealing (in my opinion) song. Their song agitates whereas the mourning dove’s song soothes.

  4. I love mourning doves. I commented in one of your previous essays about how, in my youth on the farm, I’d mimic the dove’s call in the evenings by blowing into my cupped hands. I could actually get the doves to reply in a call-and-response manner. it was such a cool notion to think maybe I was communicating with them. I’ve written about mourning doves and their call in a dark poem titled “The Farm” on my blog I really enjoyed the poems you included here, and I liked the one in the comment by rivertoprambles, too. I haven’t heard a dove’s call (or any birdsong for that matter) for a few years now due to deafness. I sure miss it. Nice work as always, Mark. 🙂

    1. Hi Mike, Thanks for sharing. I remember you saying that about calling the doves! That is pretty cool. I also really appreciated Walt’s addition to the post.
      Thank you for your comments and continued support! I appreciate you insight into these topics. Talk soon,

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