Lifesaving Poems: Mary Oliver’s ‘The Journey’

A great poem to start National Poetry Writing Month. Also, this one:

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, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your 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.

Mary Oliver

Anthony Wilson

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If there is one theme I keep going back to in these Lifesaving Poems posts, it is this: behind every discovery of every single poem in the list there is a person who nudged it forward, often directly, sometimes invisibly, frequently without knowing it, towards me. From friends, fellow poets and teachers, to sitting in a car park waiting for a poetry workshop, or driving to one, I feel the luckiest of people to have had such great mentors.

This is no less true of my discovery, some three or so years ago, of Mary Oliver’s poetry. Now, I realise, as with my discovery of Billy Collins, that I was pretty much the last person I know to come to this particular party. Until I found this marvellous blog post by my old friend Malcolm Doney I had kind of felt Oliver’s searching and tough-delicate poems…

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