For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Wild Geese

I have loved this poem by Mary Oliver ever since I first saw it reproduced in some newspaper. I cut it out and kept it. Loren Webster has some interesting things to say about Mary Oliver's poetry here. I really must read more of her work. This poem - I think it's quite a well known one of hers - explores that perennial theme of human alienation from yet connection with nature which I've touched on in some recent posts.

Wild Geese

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.

9 comments:

Singing Bear said...

To my shame, I've not heard of Mary Oliver before. I really like this poem. Must find out more.

The Solitary Walker said...

I only know this poem by her, plus the ones discussed by Loren Webster. I'm also going to investigate further. I really like that primeval, guiltless state of nature she describes. So far removed from our crippling human-religious concept of 'Original Sin'. And the way she links nature with the human imagination. For all its apparent simplicity, I think this poem resonates far more deeply than it might at first appear to.

Loren said...

Mary Oliver is something of a "rock star" poet here in the Pacific Northwest, and much of America, where she sold out the theater she was appearing in and people were actually scalping tickets at $200 or $300 a piece.

My friend, who doesn't like her, sent me "Wild Geese" because he knows I generally like her poetry and then a criticism of her that dismissed her as a "Romantic," and not a true poet.

I've yet to read one of her books where I haven't discovered two or three poems that I love.

The Solitary Walker said...

Having traced a few more of her peoms via the Internet, I can see why some people don't like her stuff. Yes, she is a Romantic - lyrical, traditional, no modernist innovator. Sometimes even bordering on sentimentality. You can see why she is popular, though popular need not be bad. Yet every now and then you get these shafts of insight about our complex relationship with the natural world which completely knock you out. She reminds me a bit of Annie Dillard - except I think Dillard is more exciting in her language.

Singing Bear said...

'Sentimental' can be a bad thing but 'Romantic' needn't be. I really don't think all modern poets need to be 'modernist innovators'. Too many 'innovators' have taken the poetry out of poetry. I like simplicity...it need not be so simple.

The Solitary Walker said...

Agree with you totally... Was just saying I can understand how some view her. Myself, having read a few more of her poems now, I still find her occasionally great but lacking in post-Pound, post-Eliot finesse.

Singing Bear said...

Pound and Eliot? Didn't we leave them 'fighting in the captain's tower'? ;)

The Solitary Walker said...

Nicely picked up, singing bear. In a contest between Pound and Eliot I'd back Eliot every time. But go with the 'calypso singers' above all.

It's funny isn't it, art & life - those towering 2 figures of Modernism, and their own personal lives and politics being so screwed.

Singing Bear said...

Yep! :)