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Audio: Mary Oliver reads “Wild Geese”

Mary Oliver reads “Wild Geese” for Seattle Arts & Lectures’ 2007/08 Season at Benaroya Hall on February 4, 2008.

Running time: 1 minute

Email subscribers may click on the title of this post to watch the video.

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.


Copyright 1986 Mary Oliver. Included in Vox Populi for educational uses only.

“Wild Geese” first appeared in Mary Oliver’s Dream Work in 1986.

Mary Oliver (1935 – 2019) was an American poet who won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Her work has been both a popular and critical success. Maxine Kumin describes Mary Oliver in the Women’s Review of Books as an “indefatigable guide to the natural world, particularly to its lesser-known aspects.” Reviewing Dream Work for The Nation, critic Alicia Ostriker numbered Oliver among America’s finest poets: “visionary as Emerson [… she is] among the few American poets who can describe and transmit ecstasy, while retaining a practical awareness of the world as one of predators and prey.” New York Times reviewer Bruce Bennetin stated that the Pulitzer Prize–winning collection American Primitive, “insists on the primacy of the physical” while Holly Prado of Los Angeles Times Book Review noted that it “touches a vitality in the familiar that invests it with a fresh intensity.” [adapted from Wikipedia]

Mary Oliver has received many honors for her poetry, including the Pulitzer Prize and The National Book Award (source: NPR)

3 comments on “Audio: Mary Oliver reads “Wild Geese”

  1. Barbara Huntington
    October 1, 2022

    I ever get tired of this poem


  2. Leo
    October 1, 2022

    Thanks for remining me of Mary Oliver. You might have saved my life today; not literally but literarily!


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