Wild Geese by Mary Oliver | Summary, Analysis, Poetic Techniques and Structure

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver Meaning: Mary Oliver was an American poet who was born in 1935. She was an inspiring poet who won the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize. She was honoured with the title of Country’s Best-Selling Poet in 2007. She is popular for her unique style of writing inspired by the natural wonders of the world. Her style is very straightforward.

Wild Geese was a poem published in 1986 in her seventh collection of poems called Dream Work. She has written numerous other poems. Her poems are known to be a love for nature as it urges readers to accept the beauty of nature and enjoy its wonders.

Students can also check the English Summary to revise with them during exam preparation.

Wild Geese shows the characteristic interest of the poet in the co-existence of nature and humans. Other famous works where she explores nature and its relationship with humanity include “Poppies”, “Morning Poems”, “Sleeping in the Forest”, and “The Black Walnut Tree”.

Summary of Wild Geese

The speaker tells the readers to stop aspiring for perfection. She instead wants the readers to look around the beauty of the world and realize that no matter how deceived you feel about yourself, the wonders of nature will never cease to amaze humanity. Thus, do not necessarily crave perfection, but be yourself.

The speaker preaches that you(reader) do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles and repent your sins. You need to be easy and kind to yourself and let your soul love what it wants. The speaker asks the reader to tell about your despairs and sadness; in turn, the speaker will tell you her own.

While you share your sorrows with the speaker, you must realize that however lonely you are, the world and nature are playing their strings of the instrument, doing harmonious wonders. She says that the sun and the crystal rain are moving across the landscapes of the prairies, deep forests, mountains and rivers.

Meanwhile, the wild geese are heading home, announcing your place in the family of this world. The central theme of this poem is motivation. The poet wants to motivate a dried soul so that it blooms the way nature blooms.

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver Structure

The poem is written in one stanza, comprising of eighteen lines. The style is free verse, and no significant use of rhyming words are found. The poem is simple in narration without any complicated use of words or expressions.

We can see one simile in the last lines of the poem- like the wild geese. The poet uses subtle half-rhymes to make the reading smooth. The words such as prairies and deep trees, exciting and things, etc., are carefully used to make the reading smooth and straightforward.

These structural methods used in the poem make it a soulful read.

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver Poetic Techniques

The poetic techniques involved in the poem are repetition, alliteration, half-rhymes, anaphora and enjambment. These are the standard techniques that are used by poets to highlight the aesthetic of a poem.

Repetition technique is the simple repetition of words or a cluster of words in different consecutive lines. The explicit use of repetition can be noticed in the first two lines, where Oliver uses “you do not have to” repeatedly. The significance of this poetic technique in this poem is “assurance”. The speaker wants the reader to believe that you really don’t have to make yourself suffer.

Alliteration is the repetition of words beginning from the same letter. A poet can use this technique for two or multiple words to make the tone rhythmic. In Wild Geese, the poet uses alliteration in two instances. In the eleventh and twelfth lines, we notice mountains and meanwhile to be alliterations. Following this high and heading home is another use of alliteration.

Half rhymes are another poetic technique that is used to give a subtle rhythm to the poem. The poet uses this technique in several lines with the words rains and prairies, exciting and things.

Anaphora or repetition is somewhat similar. The difference between the two is that the technique repetition means repetition of any word. Anaphora is the repetition of a word or a cluster of words at the beginning of lines. Such as “you do not have to” and “meanwhile” in the poem is an excellent example of anaphora.

Enjambment is the quick transition of incomplete sentences. The poetic technique does not give the reader time to register one line and quickly jumps to another. This technique is a primary contributor to the thrill in a poem. We can witness the use of enjambment in lines eight, nine, sixteen and seventeen.

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver Summary

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver Breakdown Analysis

Line 1-3

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

The first three lines of the poem tell the reader to not strive towards retention. The poet says you do not have to be good or best. You do not have to give yourself pain and walk on your knees for a hundred miles in a desert because some source demands you to repent. The poet wants the reader to be carefree and liberated of the notion of perfection.

Line 4-5

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

The poet, through these lines, preaches to the reader that you have to let your soul love what it wants to love. The poet wishes the reader to be unapologetic and fearless in loving what he/she wants to love. The poet means that you don’t have to strive towards perfection but love what you want to love.

Line 6-11

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.

The poet wants you to speak about your sorrows to her, and she will talk hers to you. The poet urges you to realize that the world is going on with its beauty while you are speaking your despairs. The world is making every arrangement to make things fall into place. While you talk, the sun and the pebbles of the rain are moving across the beautiful landscapes.

The sun and raindrops are moving over the prairies and the deep forests, the mountains and the rivers. The world is moving on with time.

Line 12-13

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

While the reader converses his/her despairs to the poet, the landscapes are changing, and the wild geese are returning back home after having a day. The poet uses the reference of a wild bird who is going back home, indicating that winter is gone. It’s the season of autumn and happiness.

The poet wants the reader to feel happy and assured that all your despairs would be gone one day. Nothing lasts long.

Line 14-18

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.

The poet says that it doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from or what you do and how lonely are you; the world offers its wonders to you in the most unexpected and exciting ways. The world calls to you loudly like a wild goose, over and over again. The world lets you know your place in the family no matter who and how you are.

Thus, through this poem, the poet wants the readers to know that pain and despair are temporary. You, the reader, do not have to punish yourself for your pain and troubles. You must let yourself grief as long as you want to. As you grieve, the world moves on and creates its special beauty for you in the form of nature.

In the end, everything will fall into place, and you will see the beauty of this world through its blooming clouds, trees, mountains and birds.

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver Historical Context

No significant historical context can be seen in this poem. The poem is a philosophical and free verse text that reminds readers of how beautiful the world is.

However, the poem was reproduced in 2004 when America had just suffered from the rages of war and violence. As Mary Oliver was born in 1935, she was a witness to the environmentalist revolution when people started to realize that nature is essential to exist. Instead, human beings and nature must co-exist to maintain harmony and balance.

This era of accepting nature as an essential part of survival is considered to be the inspiration for Oliver’s literary pieces. Most of Oliver’s poems are rich with references to the natural elements of this world and its beauty. Through her poetry, she inspires and urges humanity to experience nature as much as they can, for it is the only truth that delivers peace,