What do wild geese symbolize in the poem "Wild Geese" by Mary Oliver?

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Early in the poem, the speaker says,

You only have to let the soft animal of your bodylove what it loves.

She describes one's body as a soft animal, drawing attention to our animal nature and the commonalities that our bodies share with the bodies of other animals in...

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Early in the poem, the speaker says,

You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

She describes one's body as a soft animal, drawing attention to our animal nature and the commonalities that our bodies share with the bodies of other animals in nature. We often think of ourselves as different from them, but the speaker seems to insist that we are, in the most important ways, similar. She says that "the world goes on" despite how we feel; the sun moves, the rain falls, and "the wild geese . . . are heading home again." Perhaps, the speaker seems to suggest, if we consider the ways in which we are similar to the geese, we will not feel our "despair" or our "[loneliness]" so acutely.

In the poem's final lines, the speaker says,

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.

Here, the wild geese are directly related to humans via a simile. The world calls to us, just as the wild geese do, and so it seems that they symbolize us in our true relationship with the natural world.

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In literature, wild geese are symbolic of compassion, community, and caring but also symbolize taking an individual path in life. If you apply this to Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese,” she explains that you do not have to be good or repenting. It is more important to love the life you are living. She acknowledges that everyone will have difficulties and it is important to have someone to talk to and share tribulations with. This is much like geese when they take to migration. If one goose is disabled and unable to fly, another goose will stay with it until it is well or it dies. Her poem reminds readers that even during times of despair the world continues on, the geese continue to fly on their path, and each individual continues to have their place in the world. No matter how alone you might feel you are surrounded by the natural world, as are the geese in flight.

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