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 get ready to migrate. During migration geese can travel extremely large distances. The Cornell Lab says that the migration range of the Canada Goose can start anywhere 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. Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry are two poets who took note of these birds and wrote about them.
(I am not positive if these poems were written about the Canada Goose or one of the other geese such as the Snow Goose or the Emperor Goose. But I don’t think it really matters much when reading the poems.)
“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 rely on. It is also a reminder that we are not 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. Nature is that a place that can provide us comfort and solace and a reminder that we belong.
A special thanks goes out to Ashley at A Different View who mentioned earlier that he really 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.
If anyone else has a nature-based poem they really enjoy, feel free to share below. I am always on the lookout for new poetry.
- 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 read more from Mary Oliver or Wendell Berry? Visit NaturalistWeekly’s Bookshop.org storefront. NaturalistWeekly.com is an affiliate of Bookshop.org and I may receive a small commission if you buy a book from Bookshop.org.