The lines of this poem are quite easy to read. Berry uses clear language and syntax throughout, engaging in direct and easy-to-imagine imagery. Many readers are going to be able to appreciate the lines of ‘The Peace of Wild Things’ and relate to the content. In fact, the poem is nearly universal in its appeal. Everyone has something that they worry about in regard to the future.
Explore The Peace of Wild Things
‘The Peace of Wild Things’ by Wendell Berry is a beautiful and thoughtful poem about escaping into the woods.
The speaker starts off the poem by stating, quite clearly, that the world is filled with sorrow, and they sometimes get caught up in despair worrying about it. It’s this worry that drives them out of their life and into the world of the “wild things.” There, beside the water where the great heron drinks and under the “day-blind” stars, they can see things clearly. The natural world does not engage in the same intense forethought that humanity does. This lack of worry appeals to the speaker and makes them feel free, at least for a time.
You can read the full poem here.
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
In the first lines of ‘The Peace of Wild Things,’ the speaker begins by describing a feeling that many readers are likely going to be able to relate to. They’re thinking about the times when they consider the world and all the despair that’s in it. They feel sorrow for what’s occurring and what will happen in the future. This translates into worry about what their life, and their children’s lives, are going to be like. It’s a worry that can’t be soothed by any words or promises because it’s based around an unknown.
When this happens, the speaker has one way to make themselves feel better. They go out into the woods and lie down beside the water, where the “great heron feeds.” They enter into a different world, one that’s not so filled with despair and is governed by simple things like drinking, eating, and resting. There, they engage in the same simple tasks.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
It’s there, in the “peace of wild things,” that the speaker is able to find their own peace. The world of “wild things” is not governed by the same rules that humanity lives by. There are far fewer worries, and the ones that do exist are tactile and direct. The animals, like the heron, do not “tax their lives with forethought.” They don’t spend their days worrying about the future, the speaker says. This is the main quality that separates them from humankind.
The speaker makes several more statements about the world and how it makes them feel rejuvenated and, as the last line states, “free.” They look around and feel the still water and the “day-blind stars” that are waiting for dark so that their light might shine again. These are things that happen over and over and continue to occur as the speaker’s life progresses through days of despair and worry.
The peace the speaker finds there is a real one. But, it’s also temporary. The freedom they experience in the “grace of the world” is limited, and as soon as they leave, they’re going to have to confront reality once more.
Structure and Form
‘The Peace of Wild Things’ by Wendell Berry is an eleven-line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. The lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme, although there are examples of half and full rhymes within and at the ends of lines. For example, “me” and “be” at the ends of lines one and three, as well as “free” at the end of the poem. There is also no single metrical pattern that unites the poem. This means that it’s written in free verse.
Throughout this piece, Berry makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point—for example, the transition between lines one and two as well as lines six and seven.
- Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses especially vivid descriptions. For example, “I feel above me the day-blind stars / waiting with their light.”
- Caesura: can be seen when the poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line. For example, “waiting with their light. For a time.” This can be done through the use of punctuation or a natural pause in the meter.
Wendell Berry wrote this poem in 1968. It was published in Openings: Poems that same year and then appeared in Collected Poems 1957-1982, published in 1985.
The message is that nature can provide an escape from the chaos and despair of humanity. There, the “wild things” do not trouble themselves with the same forethought that humankind does. One can find relief there.
It’s not entirely clear what Berry was thinking about when considering his “children’s lives.” But, one might guess it has to do with war, poverty, the fate of the planet, and any other existential and present threats they might face.
The speaker is someone who has children and a good understanding of the nature of the world. They know that the world is not a safe place and grow overwhelmed by this fact. They have an appreciation for nature, one that they sought to share through the lines of the poem.
The tone is reverential and concerned. The speaker starts out filled with despair and worry about their future and their children’s futures. This transitions into peace and reverence as they consider the “wild things” around them and how different life is in the woods.
Readers who enjoyed ‘The Peace of Wild Things’ should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’ by William Wordsworth – describes how a host of golden daffodils dancing in the breeze of the Lake District mesmerized his heart.
- ‘Patience Taught by Nature’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning – was written as a reminder to readers that there is a whole world beyond one’s own that is uninfluenced by the dreary, everyday problems of human life.
- ‘Eagle Poem’ by Joy Harjo – urges us to feel our inner self by emphasizing the idea of spirituality and self-knowledge.