Geese over Farlington Marshes

Learning the Wild Geese

I’m not very good at memorising my poems, and am in awe of those poets and spoken word performers who can stand on stage and recite their work without having a paper prompt.. Despite having read some of mine 30+ times I remain unconvinced that my memory is good enough, and always have a safety net to hand.

I am therefore beginning to regret my decision to be part of an event on March 1st at the Theatre Royal Portsmouth, where alongside about twenty others I will be reciting someone else’s poem from memory – especially as the poem I have chosen, Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese, is very well known.

I love this poem, from the direct statement of the first line, the conversational tone of language, the use of repetition, internal rhythm and subtle imagery. It takes a lot of skill and effort to create a poem that seems so effortless and unforced – as a comparison compare this to the haibun I posted earlier (Springwatch 2029). I know which is the better poem by far – and if you think it’s mine then thank you, I’m flattered – but you’re wrong!

You can find plenty of other articles about this poem online ( I really am beginning to wish I had chosen something more obscure!) but if you are going to follow any one link then choose this one – an audio recording of Mary Oliver reading Wild Geese

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 soft 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.


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