World of Opposites
World of Opposites

World of Opposites


“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.


“Wild Geese” Essay

 We live in a world of contrast, not morality. Nothing in the expansion of human life is relevant if not compared to its polar opposite. The distinguishable differences within experiences and memories are what molds character. Mary Oliver’s poem, “Wild Geese” showcases this swirling conclusion beautifully. She understands that an individual does not need to exist merely to be “good.” The essence of righteousness could be delicate and fragile to one, and romp about carelessly with another. We have all suffered, and rejoiced, in some way to get to where we are now. The interpretations of others will be uniquely different in how they manifest, no matter how similar, because of our own free adventures. Oliver reveals in her poem that life is mysterious in the way that it evolves, taking on its own form without our knowledge or permission. The only thing more constant than the evolution of life is time. Like gravity, time is a juggernaut that cannot be stopped or skewed or bend to the will of life. We must accept the decorum and hardship of everything we encounter no matter what those experiences may be. Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese” soothes the reader by dispelling the requirement of righteousness, allowing primal instinct to flourish, and by offering comfort in our place on Earth.

Oliver’s poem provides comfort to the reader showing that righteousness is not a requirement that we must pursue. The opening line of “Wild Geese” puts the focus on the reader, advising us to look inward to justify our thirst for acceptance. The line reads, “You do not have to be good.” (Oliver, Mary). Oliver shows us that we have more than the virtuous choice of conformity available to us. Our judgment of placing what is good or bad is not universal. To be good in one culture could be horribly offensive in another. People in power absolve themselves of any kind of consequence in the determination of what is “good” or “bad.” When joined by popular opinion, the views of the few begin to outweigh the beautiful maelstrom of many. Oliver speaks to the reader with a tone of encouragement throughout her poem. Being “good” is just a gentle option. Oliver follows with, “You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.” (Oliver, Mary). This elaborates the notion of choice that we all have. It is nearly senseless to put yourself in a position that you must be submissive to the integrity of others. If you are pushing yourself into hardship, it would be because you are choosing to do so, not purely because it is the right thing to do. Oliver writes, “Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.” (Oliver, Mary). This line of encouragement shows us that we have lived in some kind of hopelessness. Oliver offers her imperfections as proof to show that ours have meaning. We all have natural counter feelings against what we believe to be good.

Any living organism can feel at peace when allowing its primal instinct to flourish. Oliver elaborates by writing, “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” (Oliver, Mary). This provides particular contrast between humans and animals. Oliver attaches the description “soft animal” to instill calmness within the assumption of ferociousness. In most cases, animals are seen as aggressive and intrinsic to nature. Every person has experienced some level of despair and part of that evokes an “animal” characteristic. As human beings, most of us will try to make sense of the difficulties we encounter. Animals do not have a human capacity to interpret hardship, they simply react in their own natural way. Oliver continues by referring to a bigger picture, “Meanwhile the world goes on.” (Oliver, Mary). Within our feral environment, there is a more distinguishable appreciation that life flourishes in a raw and natural way as opposed to the domestic human philosophy. Oliver refers to landscapes, deep trees, mountains and rivers carrying on while the rest of humanity walks about with distinctive purposes. Catastrophe can unbalance nature, and ourselves. During all of this, the world constantly breathes with its amenities and continuously cradles the rest of its tenants.

We are comforted when discovering our place on Earth in the family of things. Nobody really knows when they find their place amongst others. This can stretch the feeling of hopelessness when the final destination is out of reach. Oliver writes, “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination.” (Oliver, Mary). This strikes hope into the individual. No matter how the world has shaped you, it provides a mighty vessel to hold endless imagination. Untangling the labyrinth of happiness and despair in the constant journey of life is what creates a feeling of serenity. Oliver compares imagination to the wild geese calling out in the clean blue air as if to pluck a person out of their life and into the primal world where they live. The poem ends by reinforcing the idea that we are part of a bigger picture, “…announcing your place in the family of things.” (Oliver, Mary). This puts in perspective that we are all part of this planet. Although there are others who mean to rule us all, they cannot take away the ideas that you create. Those that believe they understand all of life’s intricacies provide even more contrast for your own understanding. Through “harsh and exciting” times, we experience it all with people and nature, in the family of everything.

There is nothing to stop you from thinking or imagining what your mind desires. With each thought, you create a new mystical path in life. Your mind constructs golden threads that weave into your quilt-life, creating an abstraction of beauty that only you can decipher. The frail understanding of good and evil is illusory. With so many influences created by man, there is a violation of what can be born in our minds. We have only our primal instincts and our imagination to guide us through obstructed land. It is up to you to find your place among the family of things. Appreciating the contrast in your life is the true meaning of peace. Once you have an agreement with the adversity in your life, you no longer refer to your hardships as hardships. They are lessons. And when you wander across that questionable threshold, you begin to seek them out. Upon your own revelation, your soul will drown you with praise.


Work Cited

Oliver, Mary. “Mary Oliver Wild Geese.” Mary Oliver Wild Geese. Web. 11 May 2015.

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