pulitzer prize-winning poet mary oliver died today at 83 and it could be because it’s january 17th and I’m depressed but, as someone who has an appreciation for poetry but can never seem to get in to it, mary oliver’s works have a very special place in my heart
during my senior year of high school I took a discussion-based european literature course that was both the hardest and best course I have ever taken in all my years of schooling purely because the teacher was mrs shepard who was in her 70s, taught part time because she was battling cancer, wore what had to be the full chico’s catalogue, and she remains everything I want to be when I grow up
she was the most thought-provoking and knowledgeable teacher I’ve ever had and always encouraged us to really dig in to and consider what we were studying and truly encouraged a passion for literature, and the cultures and people the works came from, in all of us
she was deeply empathetic and encouraged all of us to be the same and she worked hard to build relationships with each of us and with each other
she was never afraid or ashamed to discuss the struggles, hardships, and setbacks she faced over her life and even agreed to meet me for coffee after graduation when my grandma died to talk about emotions surrounding death and life and healing and i still believe taking her class and getting to know her was one of the best decisions I’ve made as a person
all of that backstory to say that every year she chose a poem to gift her seniors to take with them and hold close to their hearts when they need it
she gifted us “wild geese” by mary oliver which, of all her works and those of others, remains my favorite poem to this day
so on this, mary’s death day, please take a moment to read “wild geese” and may you all hear the harsh and exciting call of the world and find your place in the family of things
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.