The migration of the Canada Geese is one of those amazing feats of the natural world. Geese are said to be able to notice the amount of available daylight, and when the days become shorter they migrate. The Cornell Lab says that a Canada Goose may start their migration in Alaska or Artics and then end in California, Northern Texas, and parts of Florida.(2) Some geese cover as many as 1,500 miles a day and can travel up to 70 miles per hour with a strong tailwind.(3)
When you think about this, and then watch them fly in their V formation, it makes sense that poets would incorporate them into their verse.
“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.
Mary Oliver (1935-2019) is noted for her nature-based poetry. She has written and contributed to over 30 books of poetry and several books of essays. She also won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and a Lannan Literary Award for lifetime achievement(4).
One aspect of this poem that I like is how Oliver implies that the migration of the geese is one of those things that you can consistently rely on. This poem is also a reminder that we are not so unique and alone, but a part of a larger order of things.
I think Wendell Berry provides us with a similar connection to geese in his poem, “What we need is here”.
“What we need is here” by Wendell Berry
Geese appear high over us, pass, and the sky closes. Abandon, as in love or sleep, holds them to their way, clear in the ancient faith: what we need is here. And we pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye, clear. What we need is here.
Wendell Berry (b.1934) is an environmentalist, poet, and novelist. He has written over 50 books of poetry, fiction, and essays and has won numerous literary awards such as the National Humanities Medal, the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Aiken Taylor Award for poetry, the John Hay Award of the Orion Society, and the Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.(5) Berry is known for writing about the need for humans to live in harmony with the natural world, and I think this poem encourages us to see that nature provides a place for us to be.
A special thanks goes out to Ashley at A Different View who mentioned earlier that he connected with Mary Oliver’s poem about Wild Geese. So when I noticed the Canadian Geese over my house, I took that as a sign that I should look into this poem. Many thanks, Ashley! This was a great adventure.
- All About Birds: Canada Goose
- All About Birds: Canada Goose Range Map
- 8 cool things you should know about Canada geese
- Poetry Foundation: Mary Oliver
- Poetry Foundation: Wendell Berry
Want to support our work? Visit the Naturalist Weekly bookstore and browse our curated lists of books of poetry and haiku. Or pick up a gift card that can be used throughout the store.
Great post, Mark, with one exception! I’m a HE not a SHE! Check the film “Gone with the Wind”, my mother’s favourite film! 😊🙋♂️
Hi Ashley, So sorry about that! Totally my bad. I will make that correction immediately. Glad you liked the post otherwise and thanks for pointing out my error. Be well!
thanks for another inspiring post, Mark – especially the Mary Oliver poem. (Every time I come across her I feel she should be more in my consciousness – then she fades our again…)
Hi Barbara, I am glad that you enjoyed today’s poems and it was able to remind you of Mary Oliver’s work. I am also finding great joy in learning about her poems. Did you know she had a book of poems about dogs. I may need to read that one!
Mark, Wishing you a very happy Sunday and thanks for your beautiful post, as always. My Sunday soul craves the poetry you share and I especially loved ‘Wild Geese’. I saw a formation of them flying this morning early and realized it was a harbinger of Fall. Have you seen the movie, ‘Fly Away Home’? It is one of my favourites. I am a big Carroll Ballard fan.
I am so glad that you enjoyed these poems! I am finding that reading, and writing, about poetry on Sunday morning is truly enjoyable. It is a very grounding process for me. I don’t know about “Fly Away Home”. Thanks for the recommendation and I will look it up. I hope you have a great day.
Thanks, Mark! You too! I definitely think you’d enjoy the movie.
It grounds me too when I write and share about nature. Well-put.
There is also the popular song in the 1950s of “Where the Wild Goose Goes.”
I am not familiar with that song. I’ll do a little research and see what I can find.
A great post Mark. I do enjoy the way Mary Oliver embeds herself in nature which comes through her poetry. Yes, nature does offer itself to our imagination! Very simple yet profound.
Hi Dwight, I am glad that you enjoyed this. I am quickly becoming a fan of Mary Oliver’s work and I expect more commentary about her work in the future. Thank for the comment!
She is an amazing poet!
I love the work of both these poets. Some years ago, we used to live near a large lake which the Canadian Geese visited. I loved to watch them flying over our house. On the ground, they are large impressive birds – in the sky they are graceful.
The Mary Oliver poem reminds me of this one, which has a similar sentiment that life goes on regardless.
In Spite of War by Angela Morgan
In spite of war, in spite of death,
In spite of all man’s sufferings,
Something within me laughs and sings
And I must praise with all my breath.
In spite of war, in spite of hate
Lilacs are blooming at my gate,
Tulips are tripping down the path
In spite of war, in spite of wrath.
“Courage!” the morning-glory saith;
“Rejoice!” the daisy murmureth,
And just to live is so divine
When pansies lift their eyes to mine.
The clouds are romping with the sea,
And flashing waves call back to me
That naught is real but what is fair,
That everywhere and everywhere
A glory liveth through despair.
Though guns may roar and cannon boom,
Roses are born and gardens bloom;
My spirit still may light its flame
At that same torch whence poppies came.
Where morning’s altar whitely burns
Lilies may lift their silver urns
In spite of war, in spite of shame.
And in my ear a whispering breath,
“Wake from the nightmare! Look and see
That life is naught but ecstasy
In spite of war, in spite of death!”
Hi Lesley, thank you so much for this poem! What a wonderful thing to read. It is interesting how Morgan goes back and forth between destruction and growth. It makes me wonder about the poet’s life experience and how this might be interpreted if Morgan was in a war torn country or from a peaceful nation. And would that change the way a reader would receive the poem. I am just thinking out loud here. Great share! Thank you!
Hi Mark, The little I know of Angela Morgan is that she was an American poet who lived through both world wars. She did suffer difficulties throughout her life, but her optimism was always at the forefront.
Here’s another of hers which I hope you enjoy.
God The Artist
God, when you thought of a pine tree,
How did you think of a star?
How did you dream of the Milky Way
To guide us from afar.
How did you think of a clean brown pool
Where flecks of shadows are?
God, when you thought of a cobweb,
How did you think of dew?
How did you know a spider’s house
Had shingles bright and new?
How did you know the human folk
Would love them like they do?
God, when you patterned a bird song,
Flung on a silver string,
How did you know the ecstasy
That crystal call would bring?
How did you think of a bubbling throat
And a darling speckled wing?
God, when you chiseled a raindrop,
How did you think of a stem,
Bearing a lovely satin leaf
To hold the tiny gem?
How did you know a million drops
Would deck the morning’s hem?
Why did you mate the moonlit night
With the honeysuckle vines?
How did you know Madeira bloom
Distilled ecstatic wines?
How did you weave the velvet disk
Where tangled perfumes are?
God, when you thought of a pine tree,
How did you think of a star?
Hi Lesley, Thank you! I really like the stanza about the bird. “Flung on a silver string, how did you know the ecstasy That crystal call would bring?” Wonderful! Looks like I have another poet to learn about. Thanks again.
Thank you for sharing this wonderful post with such exhilarating poems. The Mary Oliver poem especially just went straight through me ❤
Hi Sunra, I am glad that you enjoyed the poems! Thanks for visiting and the comment.
You’re most welcome ☀️
Speaking of Canada Geese, I’ll be posting a photo of a V-formation this Wednesday (9/15/21).
Enjoy your blog!
Hi Phil, Good to know! I’ll keep an eye out for it. Thanks for you support!