Poems About Wild Geese

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.)

Illustration of Canada Geese

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.


Resources

  1. All About Birds: Canada Goose
  2. All About Birds: Canada Goose Range Map
  3. 8 cool things you should know about Canada geese
  4. Poetry Foundation: Mary Oliver
  5. 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.

23 thoughts on “Poems About Wild Geese

Add yours

  1. 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! 😊🙋‍♂️

    1. 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!

  2. 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…)

    1. 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!

  3. 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.

    1. 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.

  4. 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.
    dwight

    1. 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!

  5. 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!”

    Source: https://www.familyfriendpoems.com/poem/in-spite-of-war-by-angela-morgan

    1. 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!

      1. 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?

      2. 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.

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