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:
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
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
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
-from Dream Work, 1986
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
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.