Eileen Kern

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Wild Geese – Mary Oliver

Here’s a legitimate-looking link to the text. The text is also in the Youtube description of the video.

Listen. And then hit replay and listen again.

I have only read a few of Mary Oliver’s poetry books, but I’ve read enough to know that her way of thinking speaks to me. “Wild Geese” is my favorite of the poems I have encountered because of the comforting message of self-care and self-acceptance.

This poem pulls me in immediately, and even though it tells me what I “have to” and “do not have to” do, the advice it provides is that of a guardian rather than a manipulator. The first line, “You do not have to be good,” offers the reader/listener a freedom from internal and external pressures: It’s okay if you do not always appear “good”–you may allow yourself to be you.

And “you” isn’t a bad thing to be. You are (and are allowed to be) tender. You are something soft and fragile, and worthy of your own place in a larger world. And although every time I’ve read the poem, I’ve felt a little uncomfortable with the intimacy in the line “You only have to let the soft animal of your body / love what it loves,” this line is what begins to tie the poem to passion. It gently prods you to ask yourself, what do I love?

The ending of the poem celebrates passion as well:

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.

When I read the phrase “the world offers itself to your imagination,” I am reminded of a few stories that I carry around with me of people living their dreams. It’s not just case study celebrities, either; some of my friends have struck out into the wild world to see if their dreams can sustain them.

I wish them everything the world has to offer.