So I was reading Mary Oliver again today, after a long time, and thought I’d share. Not because you haven’t read this (you probably have) but because it’s one of those rare ‘happy’ poems. For various reasons, I’ve been on a quest to find these lately and it’s hard! Poets are a gloomy lot ranging from the philosophical-sad to the downright macabre.
It also poses a small difficulty that happy poems often end up sounding like something from a Hallmark card. I’m not sure I don’t feel a slight twinge of that even with this one towards the end. But the beauty of the earlier lines and the fact that you can’t fault the essential truth of the missive redeem it. It’s interesting how “the family of things” here is not neat, gift-wrapped, ribbon-tied. There is the “soft animal of the body” early on and the placidity of “mountains and the rivers” is broken by “wild geese, harsh and exciting”. Because family–of any kind (the universe or otherwise)–is hardly all warm apple pie by the fireside, is it? It is often “Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.”
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 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.