wendell berry

Living With Poetry | The Peace of Wild Things

We sold the bookshelves before Henry was born. The big, dark, wooden things were with us since the beginning of our marriage, sitting side by side in our first living room. Now we needed space for the crib and changing table, plus whatever else a baby required, and installed three white shelves along an empty space on the wall to accommodate our books.

In quiet moments I stand here looking at my row of poetry, reading the spines before reaching to pull a book down. I bring Ruth Stone, William Carlos Williams, and others to the couch and sink in, opening first to the dog eared pages I had marked, to see what was once important to me, what moved me.

I consider it a successful day when I’m able to brew and drink tea in the same sitting. It doesn’t always happen this way. When Henry sleeps I have several choices. To curl up on the couch under a blanket. To make granola or curry or muffins, sometimes tea. Occasionally I fold laundry.

Today, poetry.

Henry wakes in the living room, grunting as he does. Soft, guttural sounds while he blinks his eyes open and raises a fisted hand in the air as if to ask a question. I scoop him up and bring him to the changing table where we’ve put a toy monkey in the corner and Henry coos at him and reaches for his leg, smiling in anticipation.

We move to the couch and I prop him up against a pillow, then pull a book from the wicker basket, The Little Engine That Could. I hope Henry is like the blue train, the one who is kind and helpful and determined. I tell him this, then we continue sitting together in silence while I read Wendell Berry.

The peace of wild things. It turns out to be a very needed poem, because when I go back to the computer fourteen people have been shot in San Bernardino, 30 miles from where I grew up. I don’t know how to explain this world to my son or what he will think of it when he is old enough to ask the hard questions. 

For these times, Berry instructs us to go into the woods, by the still water. Except I am not near a forest. The ocean, though nearby, I do not venture to. Instead I sit next to my son on a soft couch and we read together. And the quiet afternoon goes on.

The Peace of Wild Things

By Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.