Wild geese – 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.

I love reading and language, but I was never as good as I wanted to be in English classes at high school. I tried and tried and maybe I tried too much to be ‘good’ at English. Recently taking a writing class (run by Jeff Brown, an amazing writer) made me realise that the writing, that is within us all, is not a logical exercise but comes from our soul.

I love what I see as the core of this poem where Mary Oliver offers that ‘you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves’, that ‘you do not have to be good’.

I also love how Mary Oliver encourages us to accept the world that is offering itself to our imagination and in doing so, announces our ‘place in the family of things’ in our natural environment that includes the sun, the rain, the landscapes and the wild geese. I find these powerful words that encourage us to connect to the world knowing we have a place, loving what we love – a natural, authentic home in which we belong without constantly striving to be good.

I love how through reading these words we can release from being good in order to fit in and we can give ourselves permission to be uniquely who we are and still belong.

I acknowledge I came across this poem in a presentation David Whyte (another great contemporary poet) gave about The Poetry of Self Compassion.

And speaking of love and nature, Leading Well is hosting ‘Leading Well with Nature’, an online workshop with Claire Dunn, renowned author and Nature Connection and Rewilding facilitator. Click here to find about more about it and to register.


Tim Dyke, Leading Well