“You do not have to be good.”


Photo by Michael Maggs, Wikimedia Commons

Today I encountered a new poem. It was shared with me by someone who has helped me greatly in the past several months. The poem resonates with me, and I wanted to share it in case it resonates with someone else out there.

“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 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.
(1986)

I love many things about this poem, but if I had to pick my favorite two lines they would be:

Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

And also:

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting¬†—

because they feel so…accurate? Something like that. They just fit. I love the idea that despair is something that can be shared (something I’m beginning to learn how to do) rather than experienced alone…which brings me to the second quote that talks about the world being there to ease your loneliness. The idea that the world calls out “like the wild geese” makes it feel like a friendlier landscape that I often imagine it to be.¬†Thanks to Daniel for sharing this poem with me today.

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