Tag Archives: Mary Oliver

We have to be good

Mary Oliver’s poem Wild Geese has been on my mind a lot of late. If you aren’t familiar with it, you can read it here – http://www.phys.unm.edu/~tw/fas/yits/archive/oliver_wildgeese.html


We have to be good


Mary Oliver was wrong

And it breaks my heart to say so.

We do have to be good.

This year demands that we

Each, alone and whimpering walk

The hundred miles upon our knees

Take the impossible, body breaking

Journey without the solace of so much

We held dear – there can be

No holding. Our soft animal bodies

Are so fragile, and those we love

So vulnerable and a hundred miles

Of knee shredding repenting will not

Save us, necessarily. Will not

Save the ones we love most.

What would you tell me of despair

Today, Mary? What would your

World loving words reveal as we

Shuffle fearful, onwards, praying

But not daring to hope.

And all the while, the wild places

Are forbidden to us and we

Must not let our soft animal bodies

Love too closely and the hundred miles

Is so far, so hard, it seems

Unthinkable to cross the distance

In the way we must.

Carry what you can, be it grief

Or fear, the names of those lost

The bitterness and anger for this waste

Of life, for these months we shall

Never have again, for the dreams

Left bloody in the wake of our crawling

For all that is gone, will never be.

Carry what you can.

Weep when you must, but do this

Terrible thing, too far beyond my reach

For comfort, knowing our bodies lack

For innocence, that we may yet be

The death of each other.

A hundred miles on your knees, repenting

There is a far side to this torment

And I believe, with all my aching heart

That some of you will reach this place

Of respite and healing.

If I do not meet you there

Remember me fondly, remember the best of me

And forgive what you can of the rest.

If I can crawl to the far side of this

I will bring you my open arms

I will soak your cheek, your shoulder

With the glad excess of my tears.

Hold fast as thought I never mean

To let go again. Kiss, if you

Will permit it, love with whatever

Raw remnants of self I have.

When we do not have to be good,

I hope to find you.


(This originally went out on my Patreon account, should you feel so moved https://www.patreon.com/NimueB )


Good enough

“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.”

(Mary Oliver)

I keep coming back to these words; warm, affirming and hopeful as they are. Beautiful words, full of tenderness, compassion, acceptance. The reason I find these few lines so powerful, is that life experience has, for the greater part, written me a totally different version. My history says, “You are not good, but you must try to be. You should crawl, repenting because your body is offensive and your love is an affront.” I like Mary Oliver’s version better. I want it to be true.

I’ve tended to assume that the reason for this, is me. Of course this is how I experience the world – because I am not good enough. That’s not what Mary Oliver says, of course. Still, the sense that it is fair and reasonable to have people and situations put me on my knees, that of course being wounded and humiliated is fair enough, and of course people are justified in loathing, resenting, attacking and otherwise wounding me. My failures justify it all. I’ve noticed along the way that the various people who have fed into my perspective have all been really keen to make sure I understand I am to blame and at fault and how good they are for putting up with me. The ones I find the hardest are when something wounds me, and saying ‘ouch’ is such a source of offence to said person, so that I end up apologising to them for having been so inconsiderate as to have found what they did hurtful.

There are places where I don’t feel that way. The soft animal of my body loves the woods and hills. It loves the open sky and the wide horizon, the cry of owls at first dark and the exuberant song of the blackbird. The soft animal of my body relishes the comfort of my bed and the arms of my lovely bloke. When there is space, I sing and laugh, and cry, and love fiercely – all the things that I cannot do in those more regular spaces.

I know perfectly well what makes me happy. My joy is often in small and simple things. It really just takes having space and time when nothing seems too immediately wrong, for me to feel peaceful and contented. Despite people trying to tell me otherwise, I eventually worked out that I am not a difficult person to please. I’m just not very good at being happy in the company of people who get a kick out of hurting me, people who are offended by my intensity, or have some other thing going on that makes no sense to me. I am tired of places that are all about blame, and my ‘fault’.

I’m nursing an idea. My life has featured a run of people in it who felt entitled to say what I should do, how I should feel. People quick to accuse and slow to forgive, for whom I have never been good enough. People who would indeed have me walk on my knees through the desert repenting, while they tell me how good they are for me, how much I need correcting and improving. But maybe Mary Oliver is right. Maybe I do not owe that to anyone. Maybe I do not have to be so good that no one ever has cause for complaint. When I’m on the hills or in the woods, when I’m curled in the warm bed, I do not have to be good. I am worn out with the repenting, with the never being good enough, with trying to make this ungainly animal body into something acceptable, which often it isn’t.

Perhaps I could stop accepting that I deserve every hurt, every blaming, shaming humiliation. Perhaps I could stop believing that I deserve to be punished, and that everything which comes to me is justified and earned. Perhaps, rather than fearing rejection and trying to live up to impossible conditions put on me, I could just quit and walk away.

I am not good.

I am no longer able to walk on my knees, repenting

They are too bloodied and I am too tired

The soft animal of my body would like something gentler.


I dare to choose that for myself. I have started making moves to change my life, and a promise that when I start getting those old, familiar messages about what a crappy and destructive person I am and how everything is my fault, I am going to walk away. There are better places to be. On the hills. With the people who like me, and who do not have to tell me how noble and self-sacrificing they are being by putting up with me.