Wild Geese by Mary Oliver - My Favorite Poem

morning geese by zeneece

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.

from Dream Work by Mary Oliver
published by Atlantic Monthly Press
© Mary Oliver

Why am I sharing this?

This is my favorite poem. When I first heard it over a decade ago, it struck me as a palliative to what ailed me. I was floundering within the christian world, not actively, but still completely under it's crushing jackboot of guilt and sacrifice. I had no idea why I was so unhappy and confused. But this poem was beacon. Here was someone telling me I did not have to martyr myself, repenting over forced morals of an ancient and barbaric god. I didn't clearly understand this at the time, but I still felt a palpable relief.

It still took me many years to fully shrug off the burden of religion. A long and difficult journey, sometimes quite painful and frightening. But entirely worth it.

I was thinking of this poem today and just wanted to share it with you. Do you have any words or images that you've found comforting or helpful in your life? I'd love to know what they are. If your story is too long for a comment, email it to me at heavingdeadcats@gmail.com. If you want to be anonymous, also email and let me know. But I'd like to share your story with everyone. I think it's helpful for us to share and learn from each other. :)


  1. I read this poem at the funeral of a friend. The service was in an Episcopal Church. He had been ex communicated 30 years ago because of a divorce and remarriage. It was a mixed group in attendance. Recovering Catholics, Christians and non believers alike loved the poem.

  2. That's wonderful. Thanks for sharing that Bill. It sounds like it was perfect for the situation.