It has become a meaningful tradition for me to return to this poem when I hear the first flock of Canadian geese making their way south in early autumn and home in early spring. As with any writing I read and re-read, I find it’s like a dear friend–the words never change but my relationship with them evolves with experience and time .
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 your 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.
If you would like to hear Mary Oliver read her poem, you can find it here.