Poetry is hard sometimes. The lack of words leaves me wanting more. And, maybe that’s the point, the distilled words of a poem have no room for excess. So I must read slower, think longer and revisit them from time to time.
I thought of this poem this afternoon and wanted to share it. To me, it’s a serious poem, but a happy one.
by Mary Oliver
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 your 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 love the strong images from nature that Mary Oliver describes.
During Lent, this line is especially appropriate, “You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.”
We’ve already been saved, I need not mourn. I need not repent for one hundred miles. It’s not about me and my actions. I must simply accept the gift of Grace.
Sometimes, it’s easier to crawl 100 miles, than to simply “let the small animal of your body love what it loves” — isn’t it?
Wouldn’t we rather earn our freedom, than embrace a gift?
That’s what I was thinking today as I read this poem.
And, the end of the poem is always my favorite.
Every time I see or hear wild geese flying overtop of our farm or when I’m driving in my car, my mind recalls these lines:
“….calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting”
Isn’t that true? Each day, the world is offering us something. I love that she chose the words “harsh” and “exciting”. Life is like that, hard but good. Harsh but exciting.
She hints at the way that the sound of wild geese makes my blood pump faster, excitement from their honking filling the air.
I like to think that Mary is calling us to be courageous, to embrace the extravagance and peace we see in nature.
She’s calling us to find our place in the family of things. She’s telling us we’ll get lost, but it won’t be for long.
We’ll find our place again every time, life will call to us again…in a phone call from a friend, a poem, a gift, or the wild geese.
Over and over life announces itself to us, we just have to listen.