The poem's opening lines describe the creature in its title: "The Oven Bird" (usually spelled as one word, ovenbird).
The speaker calls this bird "a singer everyone has heard," a hyperbolic phrase suggesting that it's both a loud and a common species. (It is, in fact, common throughout much of North America, including New England, where Frost lived for most of his adult life.) Since the poem will go on to interpret what the bird "says," this hyperbole might also suggest that its message resonates with "everyone"—that is, that its complaint about the passage of time has a universal quality.
The word "singer" is important, too. The ovenbird is defined by what it creates and expresses—much like human artists. In fact, the speaker may be drawing a parallel between birdsong and poetry, including this very poem. To that end, lyric poetry (like "The Oven Bird") has ancient roots in song. "The Oven Bird" is a sonnet, a poetic form whose name derives from an Old Provençal word meaning "little song." Thus, the word "singer" is an early clue that the poet may be writing about more than woodland noises; he may be commenting on poetry and art.
Notice that these opening lines form a rhymed couplet, which is an unusual choice in a sonnet:
- Some traditional sonnet types (including Shakespearean and Spenserian sonnets) end with a rhymed couplet, but there's no traditional model that begins with one.
- The poet thus seems to be messing with the conventions of his chosen form, making something odd and original out of it. In this way, he may be imitating his poem's subject, who doesn't sing like "other birds" (line 11).
- Rhymed couplets also have a crisp, emphatic sound, often used to end sonnets with a flourish. This poem, on the other hand, starts with "Loud" emphasis, but will end with a quieter "question."
Rhyme isn't the only device that makes these first lines attention-grabbing. The poem uses the iambic pentameter that's standard for sonnets, meaning that its lines generally contain ten syllables arranged in a "da-DUM, da-DUM" rhythm. (In other words, its lines typically contain five iambs, or metrical feet consisting of an unstressed followed by a stressed syllable.)
But lines 1-2 include many variations on this rhythm. Line 1 starts with a stressed syllable, and line 2 contains six stresses (rather than five) arranged in an unusual pattern:
There is | a sin- | ger ev- | eryone | has heard,
Loud, a | mid-sum- | mer and | a mid- | wood bird,
Notice that the monosyllabic word "Loud" opens its line with a stressed syllable and is followed by a caesura (that comma, which creates a pause). These effects make it especially emphatic—or "loud," so to speak!
Lines 1-2 also contain lots of alliteration ("has heard," "mid-summer"/"mid-wood") and /d/ consonance ("heard"/"Loud"/"mid-summer and"/"mid-wood bird"), which add further emphasis. All told, these sound effects help evoke the noisy, insistent cry of the ovenbird.