The Peace of Wild Things: Wendell Berry’s Poetic Antidote to Despair, Animated

When misery for the world grows in meand I wake in the night at the least soundin fear of what my life and my kidss lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drakerests in his charm on the water, and the terrific heron feeds.I entered into the peace of wild thingswho do not tax their lives with forethoughtof sorrow. I enter into the existence of still water.And I feel above me the day-blind starswaiting with their light. For a timeI rest in the grace of the world, and am complimentary.

In another half-century, Wendell Berry (b. August 5, 1934)– among the terrific poets and wisest seniors of our time– got to this essential truth, a truth we so quickly forget in those times of misery when we most need it, articulating it with his unusual tenderness and clearness of vision in the title poem of his 1968 collection The Peace of Wild Things (public library), composed under a thick cultural cloudscape of misery– at the peak of the Cold War and the Vietnam War, after the succeeding assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Dr. King, in the wake of Silent Spring and its disquieting wakeup call for our damaged relationship with nature.

Art from The Blue Hour by Isabelle SimlerBerry– an uncommon seer into those subterranean landscapes of being where nature meets human nature and an unusual voice of our cumulative ecological conscience– reads the poem in this awesome short film, produced by On Being and shown by English artist Charlotte Ager.

Two a century back, in a prophetic book picturing a twenty-first-century world savaged by a lethal pandemic, Mary Shelley considered what makes life worth living, firmly insisting that in the middle of prevalent death and misery, we must seek peace in the “murmur of streams, and the gracious waving of trees, the beauteous vesture of earth, and superb pageantry of the skies.” A century later on, Willa Cather– another immensely skilled, immensely underappreciated novelist and poet laureate of the human spirit– contemplated the deepest wellspring of joy and located it in those minutes when, immersed in nature, we discover ourselves “liquified into something complete and fantastic”– a line now emblazoned on Cathers tombstone by her partner.

At the last Universe in Verse– my charitable event of science and the natural world through poetry– On Being creator and host Krista Tippett read Berrys poem with a beautiful prefatory meditation on how poetry provides us the language to bear in mind our creaturely nature, which in turn reroots us in the bigger web of belonging as “creatures amongst creatures”:

Enhance with Wendell Berry on delight as a force of resistance, how to be a poet and a total person, his conscience-clarifying poem “Questionnaire,” and Kristas soul-salving OnBeing conversation with him, then review two kindred-spirited animated poems: Marie Howes “Singularity” and Linda Frances “Murmuration.”.