by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
As published in Dream Work,The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1986.
To be fair, this is more of an autumn theme, perhaps, but geese fly in the spring, too. Lately on my walks and runs, I’ve seen goslings swimming their way around the C&O Canal, paddle-paddle-paddling their gosling feet to keep up with their parents. “Wild Geese” is the poem by which I was introduced to Mary Oliver.
At one point, I was asked to take a published poem and re-arrange its words to create something new. I selected “Wild Geese” for this task. Oliver herself would probably detest this having been done, but alas.
Head home, whoever you are,
to family and things.
You do not have to be good
to announce your place,
to love the wild geese.
High in the clean blue air, the sun
repents over the prairies and deep
trees as the lonely world calls to you
across landscapes of imagination,
yours. Meanwhile, love goes on.
Walk a hundred miles through
despair, across mountains and rivers,
and when the soft animal of your body
falls on its knees, I will call you mine.