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 the 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.
Painting by James Crandall
Oxygen, by Mary Oliver (1935-2019)
Everything needs it: bone, muscles, and even,
while it calls the earth its home, the soul.
So the merciful, noisy machine
stands in our house working away in its
lung-like voice. I hear it as I kneel
before the fire, stirring with a
stick of iron, letting the logs
lie more loosely. You, in the upstairs room,
are in your usual position, leaning on your
right shoulder which aches
all day. You are breathing
patiently; it is a
beautiful sound. It is
your life, which is so close
to my own that I would not know
where to drop the knife of
separation. And what does this have to do
with love, except
everything? Now the fire rises
and offers a dozen, singing, deep-red
roses of flame. Then it settles
to quietude, or maybe gratitude, as it feeds
as we all do, as we must, upon the invisible gift:
our purest, sweet necessity: the air.
Painting by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912)
“You must not ever stop being whimsical. And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life.”
Mary Oliver, Wild Geese
“The sea can do craziness, it can do smooth, it can lie down like silk breathing or toss havoc shoreward; it can give gifts or withhold all; it can rise, ebb, froth like an incoming frenzy of fountains, or it can sweet-talk entirely. As I can too, and so, no doubt, can you, and you.”
Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings