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.

from Dream Work by Mary Oliver

published by Atlantic Monthly Press

© Mary Oliver

The sound of wild geese squawking and barking wakes me these days. Depending on my mood and the time of day, I am raised up or saddened by the sound that signals their departure. Autumn. Fall. Falling back. The loss of daylight hours. It’s the only time of the year when I feel a sense of wistfulness, an acute awareness of the passage of time. And it seems to be the central theme of every poem written about autumn. Yet, I don’t want to stay with this feeling. I prefer Mary Oliver’s response to the wild geese. “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination.”

Exercise: Spend a moment outside taking in the autumn air, listening to the sounds of the world around you. While outside, read aloud Mary Oliver’s poem and listen to the repetition of the sounds that begin with “meanwhile” and roll on and on. Jack Grapes calls this voice the “To Be Read and Sung” voice. “The voice Greek and Roman orators....the voice of the Old Testament and the Deep South; the voice that speaks to the multitudes, a voice that is meant to rouse and inspire.” Write your own prose poem about autumn using the repetition and rhythm in the Mary Oliver poem. Speak to the Multitudes. Offer your imagination to the world!!

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