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“Wild Geese”

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination.” — Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese” touches a tender place in my soul, and I often share it with students in my writing workshops.

As a child in Sunday school, I was terrified of disappointing the punitive, restrictive God portrayed in our leather-covered bibles. No matter how “good” I was, or how closely I followed the rules, I still felt judged and unworthy. Today, I follow my moral compass, but I don’t allow fear to constrict my life. As Mary Oliver reminds me, we were all created to shine our own light; to find our purpose in this gorgeous world of ours. When you read this poem, what does it say to you? — CL

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.

— Reprinted from Owls and Other Fantasies, by Mary Oliver; Beacon Press; 2003.

Throughout my career, I've worked as a book production editor, travel magazine editor, features writer, and weekly newspaper columnist. My award-winning lifestyles features and essays have appeared in many national magazines and anthologies, including Newsweek, Reader's Digest, The Christian Science Monitor, Writer's Digest, Victoria, Better Homes & Gardens, Bella Grace, and more. My weekly Sunday "Life Lines" column ran for 14 years in The Daily Tribune (Royal Oak, MI) and won a First Place (Local Columns) award from the Michigan Press Association. My essay collection, Writing Home, includes 93 previously published columns and essays focusing on parenthood and family life.


  • Mary Ellen

    This is a season of sadness for me because of the death of my beloved brother. I have been walking the Paint Creek Trail watching the trees and flowers wake up. The world goes on. A welcome poem this morning Cindy, thank you!

  • Cindy La Ferle

    Mary Ellen, I am so very sorry to learn about your brother’s death. My heart and sympathies go out to you, and prayers for healing. I am glad the poem is of some comfort. –Cindy L.

  • Marlynn

    Cindy, Love the poem and I have to admit I was not familiar with it. I am “having to read” a management book called, “Good to Great,” by Jim Collins, and it is growing on me. He states, “Life is unfair–sometimes to our advantage, sometimes to our disadvantage. We will all experience disappointments and crushing events somewhere along the way, setbacks for which there is no ‘reason,’ no one to blame. . .What separates people, Stockdale taught me, is not the presence or absence of difficulty, but how they deal with the inevitable difficulities of life. . .you must retain faith that you will prevail in the end. ..” I guess what I am trying to say is that no matter what happens, as the poem states, “the world offers itself to your imagination. . .” and you can become stronger not weaker as you fly with the wild geese-which is a beautiful thing.

  • Sharon

    The first line has been in my head all week, but I haven’t stopped long enough to read the entire poem, one of my favorites by Oliver. You have great insight, Cindy, and your comments are right on. I learned of this poem years ago when a friend handed me a copy when I going through a rough patch. The words still ring true.

  • Jan

    Cindy, thank you for posting this lovely reminder for us to fly free…to follow our heart and sou’s calling. I am glad that you follow yours, truly! And though a solitary path is not easy, it has great benefits, one of which is true creativity because we are honoring our deep places. Like Sharon, the first line is so haunting yet inspiring. May we all fly…

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