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
One of the reasons I love Mary Oliver and her poetry so much is she gives you, me, all of us, permission to be the most authentic versions of ourselves. We can shed the artifice, the smoke and mirrors, the self-flagellation. We can allow ourselves to exist without imposing legalistic strictures on who we are and how we’re supposed to behave. We can be wild, in the purest sense. And how freeing that thought is.
Sometimes I read Mary Oliver when I need a dose of self-forgiveness. The world teaches us to feel shame, to loathe and condemn, but that is not in our original design. It is okay to just be. For anyone looking for a good place to start reading Mary Oliver’s oeuvre, I’d personally recommend Devotions, because it includes work from all of her previous collections of poetry.
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