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Mary Oliver (USA, 1935-2019)

Mary Oliver

Wild Geese external link at the TP Podcast
Worksheet worddoc (1 page) with 3 activities

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 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 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.

More Poems...

A Visitor
(from Dreamwork, 1986)

My father, for example, 
who was young once
and blue-eyed, 
on the darkest of nights
to the porch and knocks
wildly at the door, 
and if I answer
I must be prepared
for his waxy face, 
for his lower lip
swollen with bitterness. 
And so, for a long time, 
I did not answer, 
but slept fitfully
between his hours of rapping. 
But finally there came the night
when I rose out of my sheets
and stumbled down the hall. 
The door fell open

and I knew I was saved 
and could bear him, 
pathetic and hollow, 
with even the least of his dreams
frozen inside him, 
and the meanness gone. 
And I greeted him and asked him
into the house, 
and lit the lamp, 
and looked into his blank eyes
in which at last
I saw what a child must love, 
I saw what love might have done
had we loved in time.


The poppies send up their
orange flares; swaying
in the wind, their congregations
are a levitation

of bright dust, of thin
and lacy leaves.
There isn't a place
in this world that doesn't

sooner or later drown
in the indigos of darkness,
but now, for a while,
the roughage

shines like a miracle
as it floats above everything
with its yellow hair.
Of course nothing stops the cold,

black, curved blade
from hooking forward-
of course
loss is the great lesson.

But I also say this: that light
is an invitation
to happiness,
and that happiness,

when it's done right,
is a kind of holiness,
palpable and redemptive.
Inside the bright fields,

touched by their rough and spongy gold,
I am washed and washed
in the river
of earthly delight-

and what are you going to do-
what can you do
about it-
deep, blue night?

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.