Wild Geese by Mary Oliver is a poem I find myself going back to again and again. As is typical of Oliver, the poem is rooted in the natural world. The combination of this with the casual, lilting rhythm and the soft wisdom that drips from the language makes it such a comforting read.
By centering the poem around the image of wild geese, Oliver reminds the reader of their very small place in a world of unrelenting natural rhythm. It brings up the visceral sensation I get when I spot the geese flying home for the winter; the beauty of that specific moment, and the reminder that I inhabit a world ruled by more than politics and capital. It is a moment that often reminds me that my actions and problems matter very little.
However, while highlighting that smallness, Oliver also grounds you, not allowing you to slip into insignificance when she invites you to ‘tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine’. In this line, she reminds the reader of the depth of emotion that you can feel, that our struggles are important to us. Also, she highlights the beauty and intimacy of relationship with others; the interpersonal connections that form our world. Yes, we matter. We matter deeply, but not so much that if we become broken, the world breaks with us.
In her last line, she draws these two perspectives together; uniting us as complex, significant individuals moving as a family, connected with not just people but the natural world around us. This poem tells me that my guilt, my desires to be good, my despair, is far from insignificant but it is very small. I do not need to walk on my knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting; I must just simply let myself exist, softly but meaningfully, in a wide world that sees me in my small space, and allows me to inhabit it.
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