The Peace of Wild Things

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.

                                     Wendell Berry

Great poems have a voice that is easy to inhabit.  Say this poem to yourself, and its voice becomes yours.  I say this poem often when despair grows in me or I wake in fear.  I say it as I go out into the peace of wild things, to remind me why I am there and what I will find.  I said it once on a sleepless night as I sat by a lake watching the stars fade so gradually that even after they had gone day-blind in the dawn sky, I could feel them waiting with their light.

After 30 years of living with this poem on my breath, the phrase that makes the poem new every time I say it is “for a time.”  For a time.  We cannot spend our lives in the peace of wild things.  The flaming sword of human consciousness bars us from that world.  But we can go there “for a time”— the spell of unknowing that comes as I stalk the heron along the shore, or the moments when the wood thrush’s liquid notes wash away the world.  This poem enacts that pastoral journey, into the green world and back again, stepping beyond our daily cares and entering “for a time” a state of awareness in which our own senses bind us back again to the first world, the rhythms and patterns that make up the song of the wild, elusive, inchoate, endlessly becoming.