life list

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver (Life List)

You’re about to find out that I’m on a Life List kick of sorts, and I’m about to tackle a longish project: memorize 10 inspiring works of poetry. I’ve been putting it off, worried it would feel like school and who has time for that? I’m running a business here. Then I found inspiration in the form of a kid with some flash cards in the grocery store, and something clicked.

You don’t just sit and memorize poetry like a math drill. You read it, line by line, carefully carefully, over and over, until it sinks in, and then some more until it’s there forever, so you can pull it forward whenever you need it (and maybe even after that). It’s not a day-or-two-and-you-have-it sort of thing. It’s a process. You don’t even have to block out time for it, either – you can use it as “time grout”, and weave it into the little moments you have free, like while you’re in a waiting room or, in the case of my young inspiration, waiting for your dad to pick up a deli order.

This is number one, by Mary Oliver, because, my god. It speaks to me. (And, also, because I’m sort of cheating. I have this one about half-way committed to memory already. It still counts.)

Have you tried memorizing stuff as an adult, simply for the love of it? Also, do you have any suggestions for poem number two?

Happy weekend, friends.

Wild Geese

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 your 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.


  1. Cindy

    9 September 2011 at 10:51 am

    It’s on my list to memorize the Yoga Sutras. I know it’s as simple as sitting down and just using a phrase at a time as my meditation mantra, but since the move, my meditation mantra has been sketchy at best. It’s something I need to figure out soon.

  2. Elizabeth

    9 September 2011 at 4:01 pm

    gah, I love Mary Oliver. that’s all.

  3. Megan

    10 September 2011 at 12:21 pm

    I don’t have a poem suggestion, but I do have a memorization technique! When I’m memorizing, I draw little pictures by the words. I can remember pictures much more than words on a piece of paper. (Who would have thought ;o)) This poem has SO much amazing imagery, so it would be easy to do for this one. Also, I have a chalkboard wall in my kitchen with verses that I memorize. I tend to read it a lot more throughout my day than if its just on a piece of paper somewhere. Happy memorizing :o)

  4. i carry your heart by e.e. cummings (Life List) at The Amber Show

    27 September 2011 at 12:49 am

    […] in a hospital bed in the E.R. for hours this week afforded me plenty of time to memorize Wild Geese by Mary Oliver, and if you’d like me to recite it for you, I totally will, show-n-tell style […]

  5. How to Build an Owl by Kathleen Lynch (Life List) at The Amber Show

    1 May 2012 at 12:02 am

    […] Wild Geese by Mary Oliver 2. i carry your heart by e.e. […]

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