In Memoriam: Mary Oliver

The celebrated poet Mary Oliver has left us at the age of 83.

Details of her life and achievements may be found here, but I’d like to say, as an Atheopagan, how meaningful her work was to me, and, I think, to all who find grace and meaning in the movements and manifestations of the natural world.

Oliver’s poetry was conversational, accessible. Mostly, she wrote in complete sentences broken by white space. Not for her the opacity that so often passes for “great poetry”; hers was a body of work addressed to people who live here, in the world, and who are struck by moments of wonder and reflection. She famously said, “poetry mustn’t be fancy”.

We’ve all read it many times, but I will close with her most famous work, “Wild Geese”, in which she reminds us of the eternal beauty of this Sacred Earth, and that each of us has a place in the world.

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.



One thought on “In Memoriam: Mary Oliver

  1. Thanks for “Wild Geese”, Mark. As you probably know, that poem is framed in many a therapist’s office, and I can never read the first sentence without something within me relaxing, with a smile.
    There’s also this:

    The Summer Day

    Who made the world?
    Who made the swan, and the black bear?
    Who made the grasshopper?
    This grasshopper, I mean-
    the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
    the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
    who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
    who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
    Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
    Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
    I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
    I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
    into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
    how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
    which is what I have been doing all day.
    Tell me, what else should I have done?
    Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
    Tell me, what is it you plan to do
    With your one wild and precious life?

    Mary Oliver

    Liked by 1 person

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