Forethought of Grief

Forethought of Grief

This week’s choice is short but good and it is “The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry.

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.

Poem 293. 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 counters the feeling of despondency brought on by the travails of modern life and his fears for his future and that of his children by leaving the house and finding a place in the natural world around it where he can absorb the beauty of nature—the birds on the lake and others that do not fear for the future because they do not imagine it. Peacefully resting by the calm waters of the lake and with only starlight, he is able to relax and discard his fears.

This poem reminds us that the natural world is unconcerned with our worries and where it remains relatively inviolate, it provides a means by which we can understand our place in the world and the superfluity of the fears that human civilisation breeds.

The line about the “day-blind stars waiting with their light” reminded me of Jerome K. Jerome’s little homily via the character J:

They awe us, these strange stars, so cold, so clear.  We are as children whose small feet have strayed into some dim-lit temple of the god they have been taught to worship but know not; and, standing where the echoing dome spans the long vista of the shadowy light, glance up, half hoping, half afraid to see some awful vision hovering there.

Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome

In finding the above passage, I discovered this lyrical bit of writing from the same book which seems to strike quite close to the sentiments of the poem:

Then we run our little boat into some quiet nook, and the tent is pitched, and the frugal supper cooked and eaten.  Then the big pipes are filled and lighted, and the pleasant chat goes round in musical undertone; while, in the pauses of our talk, the river, playing round the boat, prattles strange old tales and secrets, sings low the old child’s song that it has sung so many thousand years—will sing so many thousand years to come, before its voice grows harsh and old—a song that we, who have learnt to love its changing face, who have so often nestled on its yielding bosom, think, somehow, we understand, though we could not tell you in mere words the story that we listen to.

And we sit there, by its margin, while the moon, who loves it too, stoops down to kiss it with a sister’s kiss, and throws her silver arms around it clingingly; and we watch it as it flows, ever singing, ever whispering, out to meet its king, the sea—till our voices die away in silence, and the pipes go out—till we, common-place, everyday young men enough, feel strangely full of thoughts, half sad, half sweet, and do not care or want to speak—till we laugh, and, rising, knock the ashes from our burnt-out pipes, and say “Good-night,” and, lulled by the lapping water and the rustling trees, we fall asleep beneath the great, still stars, and dream that the world is young again—young and sweet as she used to be ere the centuries of fret and care had furrowed her fair face, ere her children’s sins and follies had made old her loving heart—sweet as she was in those bygone days when, a new-made mother, she nursed us, her children, upon her own deep breast—ere the wiles of painted civilization had lured us away from her fond arms, and the poisoned sneers of artificiality had made us ashamed of the simple life we led with her, and the simple, stately home where mankind was born so many thousands years ago.

I like this poem because although it is simple, it contrasts the peace of nature with the unrest of modern life.


  • Watch a short film with Wendell Berry performing his own poem on YouTube.
  • Read Three Men in a Boat at Project Gutenberg.