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Personal Choice 14 - for Helen

who loves Mary Oliver's poetry as much as I do

I did not discover Mary Oliver until only a decade or so ago: a small epiphany! Rev. Ruth Mathieson read Wild Geese at College morning prayers and she became an immediate reminder of what poetry is really about and concerned with. In other words, Mary Oliver is for me now a poet to measure my own work against - in an effort to know I am 'on course’. And more importantly to love and have an immediate attachment to her redemptive verse that contains more than a balm for our world in peril and travail.

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.

Red Bird

Red bird came all winter

Firing up the landscape

As nothing else could.

Of course I love the sparrows,

Those dun-coloured darlings,

So hungry and so many.

I am a God-fearing feeder of birds,

I know he has many children,

Not all of them bold in spirit.

Still, for whatever reason-

Perhaps because the winter is so long

And the sky so black-blue,

Or perhaps because the heart narrows

As often as it opens -

I am grateful

That red bird comes all winter

Firing up the landscape

As nothing else can do.

Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver (1925 - 2019) was an American poet who won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Her work is inspired by nature, rather than the human world, stemming from her lifelong passion for solitary walks in the wild. It is characterised by a sincere wonderment at the impact of natural imagery, conveyed in unadorned language. In 2007, she was declared to be the country's best-selling poet.


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