Rest for a Moment in a Poem’s Peace

A boy walks through a waterfall on July 25, 2016 while playing in the water at The Yards Park in Washington, DC, as a heat wave rolls across the area.

Rest for a Moment in a Poem’s Peace

As various forms of human-made madness continue to swirl around us — occasionally catching us up in the swirl — it’s important to be intentional about seeking sources of inner peace. Only when we’re at peace inwardly can we bring some measure of peace to a violent world.

That’s why I’m grateful for this poem by Wendell Berry. He not only reminds us of the peace to be found in the natural world — he offers us the peace to be found in a poem:

“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.

Most of the time, I can’t “lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.” But I can rest in the beauty and wisdom of this poem any time I want.

It’s worth noting that Berry says, “For a time, I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.” With that grace and freedom in hand, we can return to the madness and do what we can to help others reclaim their humanity — until it’s time, once again, to reclaim our own.

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is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. His book On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old will be published in June.

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  • Gabby

    Thank you, always, for so generously sharing the words you find as well as your own wise perspective. The Katrina Kenison link is wonderful.
    While herons are never at hand for me, I feel grateful I can so often see ducks or other birds, even in the city. And I can look deeply into the eyes of my dog. But more, I have felt thankful for being able to see beauty easily in almost any face, so again, even in a city, I can feel surrounded by beauty, even in painful times.
    Your weekly post does its magic as well. When so much of what we read, whether in the news or in blogs and so forth, displays values that are alienating, to find a kindred spirit in a weekly column is also a form of respite.

    • Parker J. Palmer

      Thanks very much, Gabby. Your words mean a lot to me. Blessings, Parker

  • michael bucci

    A parental moment, you know the unknowing when you take on the work of being a parent-continual-now what do I do, or, oh shit, I messed that one up. I have had many contentious moments with my daughter, but on a plane flight together, I peeked over to see her writing in block letters on her journal for the trip we were taking-the last line of Wendel Berry’s poem.

  • Delicious. Thank you. My week has started off right.

  • Diana Traylor

    This poem and reading goes in my pocket. Thank you.

  • Like others, below, I say thank you. I’ve only just found the site and column, and am so glad to have done so.
    I facilitate a group where we share poetry as a way into discussions of all sorts of things—discussions ‘on being’, in fact. This morning I was looking for the Wendell Berry poem, because I wanted the group to encounter the poem’s gift of respite; and I found this column too. I feel lifted by a sense of connection and a reminder of hope. I am so grateful.

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