When Despair for the World Grows in Me

Photo Credit: Dan Carraco

When despair for the world grows in me, there are many things I turn to for healing and hope. Wendell Berry is one of them.

Berry would probably describe himself first as a farmer from Kentucky, but I always think of him as a poet and author. He has a simple and profound way with words, and he speaks with the vocabulary of creation.

I’ve memorized several of his poems because I find it helpful to bring them to mind and recite during moments when I am far from technology and books.  My family sometimes is forced to dutifully listen, and after which they say, “Dad, you said that one to us already,” as if one should only recite a poem once.

If you are interested, I suggest his New Collected Poems. He is a prolific writer and has written several novels and non-fiction books on the environment.

I’d like to share with you a couple of snippets. The first is probably my favorite poem that I’ve memorized. It’s entitled, “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.

The second is a recent documentary which is available on Netflix entitled, “Look and See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry.” I was hoping it would be more about Wendell Berry’s life, but it’s actually more about the cause for which he devoted much of his activist efforts–the plight of the family farm. Still, I learned much about what many in our area have experienced as they try to make a living off the land. It was eye-opening.

I think you’ll enjoy this dramatic, opening scene of the documentary where Berry recites his poem, “A Timbered Choir.”


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