Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Provincetown: Mary Oliver and Wild Geese

UPDATE: I've highlighted the words suggested for omission, including two of my own. I want to know the real one!!

I've posted the following poem by Mary Oliver before. It's one of my favorites and one of her best. But here's something that may interest you about it:
Mary Oliver lives in Provincetown. This summer she was interviewed by Provincetown Arts, a gorgeous annual magazine that features the many talented artists in town. She was asked about this very famous poem of hers--if she would change anything about it if she were writing it today.
Her reply was one word. She said she would leave out one word. Then she smiled and challenged her readers to guess what that word is.
I don't know the answer either so I can't offer more than the interesting challenge of taking a look.
Fellow artists and poets and writers and painters and otherwise creative souls: what word do you think she would leave out?
Wild Geese - 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 movin across the landscapes,
over the praries and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clear blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers you imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.


  1. Mybe she left nothing out. But to get ppl to think about the poem more deeply and having ppl think something was missing. The only thing missing in my mind is the freedom the geese have. Oh I ramble ...

    Sonia xoxox

  2. mmm don't know.
    the word I would change is "only"... I'm not exactly sure why..... but it's the first that sprang to mind.

    I like the poem.

    :-) x Ribbon

  3. oh god, i could never begin to guess what word she'd change or leave out.
    I've always loved this poem and her work.

    hey...how did the booksigning go??

    When we talk on the phone it's all about ME!!!


  4. Beautiful poem!!!
    I have no idea which word to leave out, but I am not that good with words.......

    Have a nice day!

  5. don't know it, what a lovely poem...xxxx

  6. wonderful.. wonderful.. wonderful!

  7. good....I would change it to you do not have to behave.

  8. Hmm . .repenting perhaps . . she doesn't seem like the type that needs to.

  9. "You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves." See, this is exactly what gets me in so much trouble! :)

    (And is there a reason my word verification is "mentent"? Men tent???)

  10. I have always loved this poem so much, one of my top ten favorites.
    I am with Baino on this one.

  11. Possibly "not" but then the 4th line wouldnt work.

    Years ago on my birthday I went with friends to have dinner in Provincetown and attend a MO reading. Afterwards, I approached her and said it was my birthday and would she please sign my copy of american Primitive. Although she wasnt really signing bks. So now I have a copy signed especially to me.

    Hope you missed the sewage disaster. be well, suki

  12. I think it may be the word 'clear' - she repeats it - once in 'clear pebbles' and then again in 'clear blue air'. If it were me, I'd leave out the second 'clear'.