April 8 Mary Oliver: Wild Geese

I’m feeling a bit bleak today. We’re having some of our April showers to remind us that Winter is not long gone quite yet. Troubles happen in threes, or so I’m told, I seemed to have experienced all three in one day (should I say “when it rains, it pours” now). Feeling awful at the moment, so I thought that it would be good to trot out one of my favorites. It always makes me feel better, so why not re-post it.

It’s a nice poem that reminds me of the bigger picture, by painting the details of a smaller picture. Flying geese. They’re up there high in the sky, free of any cares, exhilarated by the height. I wonder if they’re looking forward to their spending time in their new, tropical home? We can see their soft undersides as she writes about the soft animal part of you – that part of you that is feeling instead of cold logic (and perhaps thinks a bit too much).

I like the fact that this poem is so honest and so simple. It’s about freeing yourself from all of the illusions of the human world that drag on the mind, all of these so called obligations to feel shame about not being successful enough, not being astute enough, not being beautiful enough, not being mature enough, not knowing enough facts to be seen as perfectly expert, not being smart enough to outmaneuver everyone else, not being powerful enough, not being confident enough, not being perfect enough, not being impressive enough, and just plain not being enough.

I like that the poet has picked geese; geese don’t care, all they want to do is fly and be happy. They are also an apt metaphor because geese fly south according to some inner vector, an instinct that lets them know what direction they need to follow. Nobody tells them to fly south and the subtext of that is neither should you. You should follow your own inner vector, let what you love guide you and don’t let others tell you that it’s wrong.

Is it wrong for you to love someone of the same sex? Is it wrong for you to love sitting in the front of the bus when everybody tells you that your place is in the back of the bus? Is it wrong for you to have a different opinion from everyone else about a book, a movie, a tv show? Is it wrong for you to love something strange, something weird? I realize there can be some boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed like when the other person doesn’t love you back, or is unable to, then it’s best to let that love go, or respect the fact that that love will never (or can never) be returned. But there’s an element of freeing in that as well. Maybe you realize that that love was covering up for something that was missing, something you needed to understand and that unhealthy place you put yourself in was keeping you from finding out what that something was.

When an animal is wounded, he licks his wound to clean it and then lays low until he can feel brave enough to face the world again. He doesn’t feel bad about how he acquired the wound and he certainly doesn’t linger on the wound itself after it’s healed. The three legged dog will bound carelessly forward as if he had been born that way. So, Mary Oliver’s use of nature to symbolize forgiveness is fairly apt, animals will be leery of the thing that hurt them, but only for long enough to get away from it, then they put it behind them – the event is over with – and go back to living their lives.

Wild Geese

by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not 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 your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are movin 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.


About penneloppe

I like to write horror, dark fantasy and crime fiction. Sometimes, I'll write science fiction, but usually I like to write science fact. I also write screenplays and stage plays. My day job is office work. I live in Seattle and I have a cat.
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