Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Why We Need Poetry

A long-time friend of my family died suddenly, tragically on Easter weekend. She was young, only 54, a wife and mother to two teenagers.
For me, a deep empathic response has come for her husband's loss -- knowing how my own husband would feel about losing his wife -- and for her 15-year-old daughter.
Whenever I am affected by a death, my instinctive response is to read poetry, to search out that one poem that will express how I feel about losing this person and what this person meant to me. It didn't take long for Mary Oliver's "Wild Geese" so find me. I think this poem becomes my expression of grief because our friend died as the wild geese are returning, and because back in the eighties she was part of our family (before all our lives took us in different directions and out of regular contact). I sense, too, that it goes deeper, but that's the joy of poetry: it's personal and it doesn't need analyzing. Like death, it can just be what it is.

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.

(Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver)

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