May 11, 2024
Michael Haggiag

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver (1935 – 2019) | with commentary by Michael Haggiag

Poet's Corner

This poem captures the essence of being able to stay in the ever present ‘now’.



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.

Mary Oliver was a prolific, prize-winning American poet who said, “Poetry to be understood must be clear. It mustn’t be fancy.” To be sure, her devotion to clarity meant that she became one of the most popular poets of her time. Yet she was devoted to her craft and her finest poetry is mesmeric, moving and wise. She often speaks directly to her readers as she does in Wild Geese and shares her intimate, often profound observations of nature. She is in some ways the modern successor to Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman, the great 19th century American nature poets.   

This free verse nature poem gave its title to a celebrated verse collection called Wild Geese: Selected Poems (2004). Here she urges us to put aside the self-flagellating inclination that often accompanies a spiritual temperament and open the heart to something greater than myself with my endless self-preoccupation and worry. She urges us to take flight like the wild geese and embrace our place in nature and the grander scheme of things. It’s the essence of what is often called being present or ‘in the now.’ 

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