by Mary Oliver
I can’t remember the last time I read an entire book of poetry. I know it’s been a very long time, but something about how “Wild Geese” struck me when I read it in a blog post compelled me to find and read more of Oliver’s work.
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.
Now, I’m lucky because in my case find meant simply asking, “Hey honey, do we have any Oliver? Do you have the one with ‘Wild Geese’ in it?”
I think it was the opening line, the statement “You do not have to be good.” Oh, and way it paired with “You only have to let the soft animal of your body / love what it loves” that grabbed me, that forced me to pay attention in that way that only happens when lines reverberate as true in my mind.
There were other moments like that for me in the book. “Dogfish” was one, and since it was the first poem in the book, that kept me going:
the past to go away, I wanted
to leave it, like another country; I wanted
my life to close, and open
like hinge, like a wing, like the part of the song
where it falls
down over the rocks: an explosion, a discovery;
to hurry into the work of my life; I wanted to know,
whoever I was, I was
“Dogfish” also has these quietly vivid lines about the fish. I could so easily see them, a few feet down in the water, not knowing they were in trouble.
Oliver takes other poets to task in “Members of the Tribe”. In “The Waves” (Surely the sea / is the most beautiful fact / in our universe, but / you won’t find a fisherman / who will say so) she reminds us what the ocean really is, and is about (everything is here / that you could ever imagine). “The Journey” presented yet another “Wild Geese”-like moment for me, and made me realize reading more poetry (okay, if I’m truly honest, stopping the almost reflexive response of deliberately not reading poetry) is something I would enjoy doing.
The mental energy I use in reading poetry is different than I use in reading stories (of facts or fiction) and I think I’ll value that the more often I experience it. Oliver was certainly a worthwhile place to start, after so long. Highly recommended.