Poetry Friday: Happy Birthday, Jane Goodall

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Poetry Friday is hosted by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater @  The Poem Farm.  

Jane Goodall celebrated her 80th. birthday on Thursday, April 3rd.  For as long as I can remember, for as long as I truly understood what it meant to be a hero, Jane Goodall was my hero.  I was (and am) in awe of her purposefulness, commitment, and courage.  In my school days, I read and re-read “In the Shadow of Man”, her amazing first book detailing her study of  chimpanzees in the wild.   And I scoured Time and Life magazines for photographs of Jane – photographs like this iconic one, which took pride of place right next to photographs of Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell on my dorm room walls:


She has led a remarkable life, often sacrificing her own safety and well being in the service of her calling.  And, she is at it still – going back into the chimpanzee reserves of Tanzania to monitor the status of these endangered animals, and going out into the world to raise awareness and to inform.  It took me many years to find my own calling, but the example of Jane Goodall always guided me, I think. I wanted to do meaningful work, work that mattered,  and had some lasting impact…and so I found my way into teaching.  And here again, Jane Goodall guided me.  For she is a teacher, too, as is evident from this TED talk she gave some years ago:

It may seem strange to think of Goodall’s birthday and this death-configured poem of  Mary Oliver’s, but I think it’s wholly fitting – especially in the last five lines:

When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.


Jane Goodall


17 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: Happy Birthday, Jane Goodall

  1. Mary Oliver is my absolute favorite. Again and again, she amazes me with her profound message, “I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.” Very appropriate for the honoring of jane Goodall.

  2. Thanks Tara, for each part, too. I like all the Oliver poem, but the last line is a good one to remember–“I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.” If you follow Robyn Hood Black’s links today about the stick insect, you will find another story about Jane Goodall. Amazing life!

  3. What a beautiful poem. Thanks for sharing this. I had not read it before, but it’s one that calls for musing over again and again.

  4. Tara, I always enjoy the leaps and links you make. Well done here, for both Jane and Mary, who have done far more than just visit (thought one might argue that visiting is okay, too… paying attention, being present… there is beauty in that, too!).

  5. Such a beautiful and meaningful post, Tara. These lines: ‘When it’s over, I want to say: all my life/I was a bride married to amazement” especially struck me, because they so perfectly describe why I named my daughter Miranda– after the character in the Tempest. I wanted my daughter to have that same sense of awe and wonder, like being “married to amazement”. As far as I can tell after 11 years, it was a good choice for her.

  6. One of the most beautiful conversations with my own daughter has something to do with living lives of meaning. Jane Goodall indeed is such an inspiration, and what a beautiful tribute you have here through Mary Oliver’s poetry and that lovely TED talk. 🙂 Thanks, dear Tara.

  7. Thank you for the tribute to Jane Goodall and the beautiful Mary Oliver poem. I truly love her writing. Interestingly, we were discussing Jane Goodall in my class the other day. She came up in the context of students’ argument writing on zoos. Something so magical about her, this poem and the connection to you and teaching. Perfect match.
    Love this line: “I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”

  8. Like Tabatha, this poem made tears spring into my eyes. This is one I’ll bookmark into my digital anthology of poems.

    This whole post is an amazing tribute to an amazing person.

  9. Pingback: Celebration: Endings and Beginnings | To Read To Write To Be

  10. I can’t believe I missed her birthday. I love this lady and the amazingness she spreads around the World. I had the absolute pleasure of meeting her, a few years ago. She is truly a beautiful woman inside and out.

    Thanks for sharing your tribute.

  11. a truly wonderful post. The poem blew me away with it’s beautiful language and description of purpose and Jane Goodall has always blown me away. Words to live by.

  12. Thank you, Tara. Whenever I’ve pondered the notion, “Who is your hero?”, Jane Goodall has always topped the list (of famous folks anyway). She exemplifies these thoughts in that wonderful Mary Oliver poem.

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