Apostrophe (uh-PAW-struh-FEE) is a rhetorical figure in which a speaker makes a direct and explicit address, usually to an absent person or to an object or abstract entity. In “Wild Geese,” the speaker directly addresses the reader using the second-person pronoun, “you.” Apostrophe commonly evokes a sense of high formality. This is the case in the opening line of John Keats’s poem “Ode on a Grecian Urn” (1819), where the speaker addresses a two-thousand-year-old vase with highly formal diction: “Thou still unravished bride of quietness.” By contrast, “Wild Geese” uses apostrophe to a much more conversational effect. Although the speaker addresses an abstract and general reader who could theoretically be anyone anywhere, each reader will hear the speaker’s “you” as a direct address to them individually. The personalization of the address feels especially pointed in line 6, when the speaker says, “Tell me about despair, yours.” The reader feels invited not just to reflect on their own despair, but to speak of it in direct response to the speaker. In other words, the use of apostrophe establishes a sense of intimacy that makes the speaker’s message to the reader feel more personal.


“Wild Geese” features two key phrases that the speaker repeats multiple times, to meaningful effect. The first phrase is “You do not,” which opens lines 1 and 2. Not only does this phrase directly address the reader and establish a familiar tone of intimacy, but it also immediately puts us at ease by insisting on what it is we don’t have to worry about. The repetition of this phrase in the opening lines assures us that the speaker aims to free us from something, rather than commit us to some new obligation. The second repeated phrase in the poem consists of a single adverb: “Meanwhile.” This word appears three times, at the beginning of lines 7, 8, and 12. The way the speaker uses this word in this poem, it means “at the same time.” Grammatically speaking, the word’s purpose is to redirect attention from one area of focus to another, where something else is happening at the same time. By repeatedly using the word, the speaker effectively redirects our attention three times. With each “meanwhile,” the speaker invites us to focus on a new aspect of the natural world, gradually expanding our awareness of nature’s vast grandeur.


A simile (SIH-muh-LEE) is a figure of speech that explicitly compares two unlike things to each other. “Wild Geese” features one prominent example of simile, which appears in lines 15–16. The speaker tells the reader: 

     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 in lines 15–18, speaker likens the vast grandeur of the natural world to the call of a goose. Just as geese call out as they migrate home after a long winter away, the world at large calls out to us, inviting us to return to our first home in nature. In fact, the speaker implies that the goose call could itself be construed as a direct invitation from the natural world. If we humans heeded the call of the wild geese, or indeed the call of nature more generally, we would realize that we don’t exist apart from it. Instead, we are members of an all-encompassing “family of things.”