Adieu Mary Oliver

I was sad to learn that the American poet, Mary Oliver, died in January.  Her poetry was remarkable in its simplicity and truthfulness.  Wild Geese, published in 1986, is one of her most famous poems.

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.

Wild Geese illustrates her deep connection to the natural world.  She lived simply to pursue her life’s work of writing poetry.  Despite many accolades earned, including The National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, Mary Oliver shunned the limelight.  By all accounts, she was most comfortable in the woods.

At Blackwater Pond
At Blackwater Pond the tossed waters have settled
after a night of rain.
I dip my cupped hands. I drink
a long time. It tastes
like stone, leaves, fire. It falls cold
into my body, waking the bones. I hear them
deep inside me, whispering
oh what is that beautiful thing
that just happened?

Click here for a rare interview, a 2015 conversation between Krista Tippett and Mary Oliver for On Being. Whether or not you are familiar with her poetry, it’s a fascinating discussion of a life wonderfully lived.


Photo of Mary Oliver by Rachel Giese Brown





4 thoughts on “Adieu Mary Oliver

  1. Kathryn Weese

    I too am a huge Mary Oliver fan and coincidentally I just listened to that interview with Krista Tippet yesterday and thought of you and your Instagram post , where I learned she had passed away.
    I pulled out my copy of “A Thousand Mornings”, which I bought in Provincetown and it’s now sitting promintly on my coffee table to pursue and savour for the next while.
    My favourite MO line is
    “what should I do? And the sea says
    in its lovely voice
    Excuse me. I have work to do.

  2. Diane McGifford

    In 2018 I attended an end of life ceremony—a lovely one for an extraordinarily kind, gracious woman, at which her granddaughter read “Wild Geese” in honour of her grandmother. Apparently the two of them had watched the geese together just months before the granny died. It was a very moving choice of poem and tender reading.

    Thanks for the post. It does me good to think about art and to remember the ceremony.


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