Wild Geese

I’m very, very busy, so tonight I will give you a poem by Mary Oliver. Here it is:

Wild Geese

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 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.

I’ve always liked this poem. I suppose because it’s about how to live in the world, which is a very Taoist way: you do not have to repent, you do not have to despair, you do not have to curse or beg from the Fates. You just have to live. You can talk about your despair, but meanwhile the world goes on: the trees grow new leaves in spring, the roses bloom again, the wild geese fly north. Life continues, and if you stop, if you listen, you can hear it. You can participate in it.

Of course I’m writing this on very little sleep, in the middle of the end of the semester when I’m so completely swamped with work that I can barely breathe. I’m not living a particularly Taoist life at the moment! And this weekend I’m supposed to be in New York for a meeting of my writing group (The Injustice League: Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, Catherynne Valente, Lev Grossman, Kathleen Howard, and Claire Cooney). And I’m trying to plan for the trip this summer (Budapest and London). So perhaps I’m reading this poem and responding to it because it’s exactly not what I’m doing right now. I’m not listening. I haven’t stopped. (Wild geese? What wild geese?)

But to be honest, I’m excited. I’ll be traveling most of the summer, researching and working on the novel, and there’s so much happening, so many changes to come. I just have to remind myself to, when I can, stop and listen.ย  Even if the wild geese I listen to are winging their way over Hungary.

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5 Responses to Wild Geese

  1. Terra says:

    That’s a lovely poem, and one I don’t think I’d come across before. Thank you for sharing it. I think I needed to read that today.

  2. One of my favorites from perhaps my favorite poet (although that’s hard to pin down, so many to love)…and though you are living and working in the swift stream of things, it is just another path, and no less taoist than silence in a hut off in some wooded glade, or high upon a snowy peak. how can you help but respond with surrender to the swirling currents urging you on–“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.”

    Wherever you go you will find yourself welcomed home because you carry it within you.


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