The Journey Poem Summary and Line by Line Explanation in English


“The Journey” is a poem written by Mary Oliver. It revolves around one’s self and understanding of who one is in the world. 

About the Poet:

Mary Oliver (1935-2019) was a prominent American poet. She holds the honour of being the recipient of awards such as the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize. Famous works of hers include “Wild Geese”, “In Blackwater Woods”, and “A Thousand Mornings”.

Explanation of the Poem:

Stanza 1

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.

The poem begins with the persona having a sense of purpose “one day”. Despite being written in the second person, it is quite clear they are referring to themselves. They talk about how everyone around, including family, is prone to give “bad advice”, each of such voices shouting at them to “mend” their lives. However, they pay no heed to this, choosing to follow their own path. They faced many obstacles that tried to draw them away from their path. Yet, they forged on, leaving “their voices behind” to instead find themselves– their own voice.  The poem ends on a rather assertive note where the persona did the “only thing” they could– save themselves, which was the “only life” they could indeed “save”. 


This is a very universal poem. It brings out the struggles one ought to face as they discover themselves.