Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.


The word “meanwhile” appears three times in “Wild Geese.” Each time the word appears, it functions to redirect the reader’s attention from one focus to another. The first time the speaker uses the word is in line 7, which marks a transition from the first part of the poem to the second: “Meanwhile the world goes on.” This line shifts the reader’s attention away from matters of emotional turmoil to a more expansive world beyond their personal concerns. “Meanwhile” appears again in the very next line. This time, the speaker uses the word to introduce a more expansive description of various landscapes that make up “the world.” The word appears one last time when the speaker redirects our focus from the land to the sky: “Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, / are heading home again” (lines 12–13). Once again, the use of “meanwhile” refocuses our attention in a way that opens our awareness and broadens our sense of the world’s horizons. With each iteration of the word, the speaker gradually reorients the reader to the vast expanses of the natural world.


In the poem’s final sentences, the speaker invokes the motif of homecoming to suggest that the natural world is where human beings can find our most fundamental sense of belonging. The motif first appears in lines 12–13, when the speaker observes that “the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, / are heading home again.” These lines reference the return journey that geese make after their migration south for the winter. Although not yet home, the geese’s passage through “the clean blue air” gives their homecoming journey a restorative dimension. The speaker further emphasizes this restorative dimension when, in the poem’s final lines, they tell the reader that the world

     calls to you like the geese, harsh and exciting—
     over and over announcing your place
     in the family of things. 

In these lines (lines 16–18), the speaker interprets the call of the homeward-bound geese as part of a more general invitation that the world extends to us human beings. By announcing that we have a designated place “in the family of things,” this invitation effectively calls us to our most essential home. Like the geese, we have spent time away, surviving a winter of discontent in some distant, metaphorical “desert” (line 3). But now, the natural world says, it’s time for us to come home.