The American poet Mary Oliver published "Wild Geese" in her seventh collection, Dream Work, which came out in 1986. The poem's speaker urges readers to open themselves up to the beauty of nature. While people focus on their own petty struggles, the speaker points out, the natural world moves along effortlessly, free as a flock of geese passing overhead. The poem celebrates nature's grandeur—and its ability to remind people that, after all, they're part of something vast and meaningful.
You do not ...
... the desert, repenting.
You only have ...
... world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun ...
... heading home again.
Whoever you are, ...
... and exciting —
over and over ...
... family of things.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
An Interview with Mary Oliver — Watch a rare interview with Mary Oliver from 2015, only a few years before she died.
Mary Oliver Reads the Poem — Watch Mary Oliver give a public reading of "Wild Geese."
Helena Bonham Carter Reads the Poem — To hear a different take on the poem, listen to the actor Helena Bonham Carter read "Wild Geese" and talk about the uses of poetry during hard times.
More About Mary Oliver — To learn more about Mary Oliver, take a look at this brief overview of her life and work.
Celebrating the Poet — Check out this article from The New Yorker, in which the writer Rachel Syme sings Oliver's praises and looks back at her prolific career in the aftermath of her death.
1You do not have to be good.
2You do not have to walk on your knees
3for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
4You only have to let the soft animal of your body
5 love what it loves.
6Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
7Meanwhile the world goes on.
8Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
9are moving across the landscapes,
10over the prairies and the deep trees,
11the mountains and the rivers.
12Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
13are heading home again.
14Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
15the world offers itself to your imagination,
16calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
17over and over announcing your place
18in the family of things.