Friday, April 25, 2014

An Encounter with Today's Wordsworth (and why I'm smitten)

A man and his dog. I'd love to meet Wendell someday.
Still National Poetry Month! Horray! My attendance record on the Isle has been shoddy lately, but here's why:  I've been reading (and working and mothering and traveling and teaching and . . .) But reading always. And reading poetry! My new poet of choice with whom I am completely smitten: Wendell Berry.

I recently discovered Berry on an airing on PBS of his interview with Bill Moyers. (The interview lasts about an hour, but if you can watch even a part of it, your day will be richer for it.) Berry had a lucrative career in New York City until he decided he wanted to move to the country and live on a farm. So he did. He moved to Kentucky. (Where he resides still.) And whilst there created some of the most beautiful poetry and prose I've read, and daily I'm discovering more of his treasures. Last night I read in his poem "Boone" these words:

If it were possible now
I'd make myself submissive
to the weather
as an old tree, without retrospect
of winter, blossoming
grateful for summers . . .

The New York Times Book Review described Berry's poetry "to have returned American poetry to a Wordsworthian clarity of purpose." And, loving Wordsworth, I do believe I agree with this comparison. One of my favorite poem's of Berry's is "The Peace of Wild Things", the message of which resonates wildly with me. But I'm not going to share that one today. I'll leave it up to you to read it and savor it and be forever changed by it. (click on the poem's title above. I promise. Best decision you'll make today.)

Instead, the Berry poem I want to share today is one from his The Broken Ground, published in 1964. Music is always a topic of interest to me--the language of the soul. And I believe Berry's poem "To Go By Singing" presents in only a few powerful images the language of a singular soul that most people might overlook. It is achingly beautiful. (It reminds me of Maya Angelou's "Caged Bird" - another great poem to read if you haven't yet.) I hope you enjoy this poem as much as I did, and still do with every reading of it.

"To Go By Singing"

He comes long the street, singing,
a rag of a man, with his game foot and bum's clothes.
He's asking for nothing - his hands
aren't even held out. His song
is the gift of singing, to him
and to all who will listen.

To hear him, you'd think the engines
would all stop, and the flower vendor would stand
with her hands full of flowers and not move.
You'd think somebody would have hired him
and provided him a clean quiet stage to sing on.

But there's no special occasion or place
for his singing - that's why it needs
to be strong. His song doesn't impede the morning
or change it, except by freely adding itself.

Happy National Poetry Month! And Happy Friday!



  1. wonderful...all of them.
    the caged bird almost made me want to rush into the other room and let my cocatiel free. almost.
    but his wings aren't clipped, and I let him fly in the house, and he chooses to rest on me, and I feel blessed. :0)

    1. Yes, to be the chosen companion (or resting place) for another is always reason to feel blessed. Thanks, Debbi!

  2. Love the poem, Anna. Thanks for sharing it with us today.


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