Words Can Save Lives

Mary Oliver, genius poet, passed away this week. Here’s two of her most powerful poems, words that transform and heal.

Anyone raised Catholic and since recovered can likely relate to Wild Geese. Whenever I feel myself slipping into shame or guilt, these opening words are my mantra. Seriously, I’m not kidding, for real, negative emotions evaporate in the shining light of this work:

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, 


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 


calls to you like the wild geese, harsh 

and exciting—

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

-from Dream Work, 1986

Canada geese on the Neponset River, this morning

And then, there are magic words that create courage and inspire resolve, even in the face of fear and doubt. How many times, even silly ones, like in difficult meetings, have I whispered to myself You’re not in chains, are you? and subsequently found my voice?


There are moments that cry out to be fulfilled.

Like, telling someone you love them.

Or giving your money away, all of it.

Your heart is beating, isn’t it?

You’re not in chains, are you?

There is nothing more pathetic than caution

when headlong might save a life,

even, possibly, your own.

-from Felicity, 2016

Maria leaping, Turner Pond, Fall 2018

I’ll be damned if her words haven’t saved a few lives.

Thank you Mary Oliver; You made of your life something special, and very real.

2 thoughts on “Words Can Save Lives”

  • Thank you for this Monique! I too am a recovering Catholic so I get it! Words can save lives I totally agree.

    I don’t know if you heard this week’s On Being but it’s a conversation Krista had with Mary Oliver in 2015. Definitely worth a listen. Mary recites ‘Wild Geese’ and discusses the origin of it which is very interesting!

    Love your accompanying photos too 👌🏼

    Here is the link if you want to check it out: https://onbeing.org/programs/mary-oliver-listening-to-the-world-jan2019/

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