Poem-A-Day 2021: Day 1, Mary Oliver

Welcome back to National Poetry Month! Tonight I will be hosting the inaugural poetry reading of a new series entitled The Mutable Hour, by Mutabilis Press. We have an amazing line-up of poets who will be reading tonight, and if you’d like to attend this virtual event, let me know ASAP. It’s on Zoom and I can hook you up with the link if you give me your email address. The second reading will be April 29th, in case you can’t make it tonight.

Here on Sappho’s Torque, I like to feature a different poem each day every April in celebration of the wide and marvelous world of poetry. We’re kicking things off this year with one from Mary Oliver, which serves as an excellent reminder to me — and maybe also to you — that there is beauty and happiness in the world, and when it knocks on your door, you should let it in and give it a comfortable place to sit, and when you have the chance to create it for someone else, then by all means, do so. I especially love Oliver’s last sentence.

Don’t Hesitate

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

Mary Jane Oliver (September 10, 1935 – January 17, 2019) was an American poet who won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Her work is inspired by nature, rather than the human world, stemming from her lifelong passion for solitary walks in the wild. It is characterized by a sincere wonderment at the impact of natural imagery, conveyed in unadorned language. In 2007 she was declared to be the country’s best-selling poet. (This biographical information is quoted from Wikipedia.)

If you’d like to see the Poem-A-Day lists from previous years, click on the following and then follow the crumbs to each day in April of each year. 

April 2020 — https://sapphostorque.com/2020/04/01/poem-a-day-me-but-also-all-of-us/

April 2019 — https://sapphostorque.com/2019/04/01/poem-a-day-2019-mary-oliver/

April 2018 — https://sapphostorque.com/2018/04/01/poem-a-day-robin-reagler/

April 2017 — https://sapphostorque.com/2017/04/01/poem-a-day-paula-billups/

April 2016 — https://sapphostorque.com/2016/04/01/national-poetry-month-day-1/

April 2015 — https://sapphostorque.com/2015/04/01/women-writers-wednesday-4115/

April 2014 — https://sapphostorque.com/2014/04/01/in-honor-of-national-poetry-month-this-year/

If you’d like this Poem-A-Day delivered right to your inbox for this whole month (and all the other wonderfulness on this blog the rest of the time), subscribe.  🙂

Poem-A-Day 2019: Mary Oliver

Not very long ago, the world lost the excellent and wonderful poet Mary Oliver. I don’t want to say too much about her poem “Wild Geese,” which is a poem I love, except that tonight it is exactly what I need in my life. Although I don’t know her entire body of work, I haven’t sought it out, because a strange thing happens to me with her poetry, which is that every time I come across one of her poems, often randomly, that poem is exactly what I need in that moment, and I don’t want to mess with that beautiful magic.

We have come again to April, National Poetry Month here in the U.S., and as has been my custom for several years now, I’ll be posting a poem each day to celebrate. (That’s the plan, at any rate, all other things being in equilibrium.) If you’d like to see past series of poems I’ve curated, there will be links at the end of this post.

For now, here is the text of Mary Oliver’s poem and also a video of her reading it, which is also, quite frankly, exactly what I needed in my life tonight.


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 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.



To read past years’ Poem-A-Day series, please click on the following links for April 1st of each year and then follow the links forward at the bottom of each post.


Mary Oliver, (born September 10, 1935, Maple Heights, Ohio, U.S.—died January 17, 2019, Hobe Sound, Florida), American poet whose work reflects a deep communion with the natural world.

Oliver attended the Ohio State University and Vassar College but did not earn a degree. She worked for a time as a secretary for the sister of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Millay’s influence is apparent in Oliver’s first book of poetry, No Voyage and Other Poems (1963). These lyrical nature poems are set in a variety of locales, especially the Ohio of Oliver’s youth. Her childhood plays a more central role in The River Styx, Ohio, and Other Poems (1972), in which she attempted to re-create the past through memory and myth. The Night Traveler (1978) explores the themes of birth, decay, and death through the conceit of a journey into the underworld of classical mythology. In these poems Oliver’s fluent imagery weaves together the worlds of humans, animals, and plants.

Her volume American Primitive (1983), which won a Pulitzer Prize, glorifies the natural world, reflecting the American fascination with the ideal of the pastoral life as it was first expressed by Henry David Thoreau. In House of Light (1990) Oliver explored the rewards of solitude in nature. New and Selected Poems (1992), which won a National Book Award; White Pine (1994); Blue Pastures (1995); West Wind: Poems and Prose Poems (1997); Why I Wake Early (2004); and A Thousand Mornings(2012) are later collections.

Oliver also wrote about the writing of poetry in two slender but rich volumes, A Poetry Handbook(1995) and Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse (1998). Winter Hours (1999) includes poetry, prose poems, and essays on other poets. In Long Life: Essays and Other Writings (2004), Oliver explored the “connection between soul and landscape.”

In addition to her writing, Oliver also taught at a number of schools, notably Bennington College (1996–2001).

This biography is quoted from the Encyclopedia Britannica entry on Mary Oliver.