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Mary Oliver: Wild Geese

Mary Oliver is a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and is perhaps my favourite poet of all time.

She was raised by a father who sexually abused her and a mother who was neglectful. Her home life wasn't one of safety and nurture, it was a terrifying place she tried hard to avoid.

Mary spent much of her childhood walking in the woods near her Ohio home. She took great solace in the natural world and walked for hours scribbling lines in her notebook and reading Walt Whitman poems. She's been described as having an almost religous devotion to examining nature and it shows in her work. As someone who has a huge appreciation for the natural world, the details she presents could only be made by someone who has intimate knowledge of her subject.

I recently listened to an interview with Mary Oliver on the On Being Podcast. Krista Tippett asked her about the poem Wild Geese, she wanted to know if Mary had any sense when she was writing it how deeply it would connect with people she said: "that's the magic of it, you never know". Krista went on to say that she has heard many people express their gratitude for this poem and that some people feel that it saved their lives. What Mary shared next was astonishing, she explained that she wrote Wild Geese as an exercise in technique. She was working with a student and was trying to demonstrate 'end-stop lines'. Krista Tippet was speechless and as I listened, I needed to take a moment to let it sink in. This beautiful, life-affirming poem that has saved lives was the result of a teaching excercise. Of course, it was written by one of the world's most loved poets, but it's still an incredible takeaway.

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 added a link to the interview in the post in case you'd like to listen yourself

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