The one that sings


The Real Work

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have begun our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

Wendell Berry
Standing by Words, Essays by Wendell Berry

Friends ask ‘do you really have a poem for pretty much any occasion?’

Two answers come quickly to mind: the first, that I’m not nearly well read enough for that to be true; the second, that I’m wary of the proposition – believing as I do that thoughtlessly ‘dishing out texts’ willy-nilly can lead to some pretty unhealthy outcomes.

Yet, for all that, there’s no getting around that I do look to poetry as guide, nourishment and sustenance almost every day. Sometimes this involves taking down books from shelves, and at others going down deep and in silence into the library of the soul.

Sometimes a poet’s message is clear, read or remembered, plain as a pikestaff – and that’s good, so long as I remember that next time I come to the same poem the experience – and the message – will be, probably ought to be, quite different, or at least a little more evolved.

At other times it’s a poem’s nuance that I’m attracted to. A certain open-endedness,  invitation to an abiding, to contemplation and / or reflection.

Poetry is always a gift for those who are lost, confused, unsure, unclear and perplexed (that’s to say, all of us at different times in our lives) because it brings us to a halt for a while, even if only for seconds, reminding us that we’re never in full possession of ‘answers’ to this world’s mysteries. Never were, are not, never could be.

And yet there is an enduring melody, a cantus firmus somewhere in the depths of us. In the place where we recognise

The mind that is not baffled is not employed,
The impeded stream is the one that sings.

And in the singing come to grow, if not to know. And today’s new work becomes clear. Here.








The songs of small birds fade away
into the bushes after sundown,
the air dry, sweet with goldenrod.
Beside the path, suddenly, bright asters
flare in the dusk. The aged voices
of a few crickets thread the silence.
It is a quiet I love, though my life
too often drives me through it deaf.
Busy with costs and losses, I waste
the time I have to be here—a time
blessed beyond my deserts, as I know,
if only I would keep aware. The leaves
rest in the air, perfectly still.
I would like them to rest in my mind
as still, as simply spaced. As I approach,
the sorrel filly looks up from her grazing,
poised there, light on the slope
as a young apple tree. A week ago
I took her away to sell, and failed
to get my price, and brought her home
again. Now in the quiet I stand
and look at her a long time, glad
to have recovered what is lost
in the exchange of something for money.

Wendell Berry
The Sorrel Filly, Collected Poems: 1957-1982

What is to be done after a reading of Wendell Berry? A walk outdoors as soon as possible. And if the poem has been feasted upon in early evening then a sunset walk will probably be necessary – with a camera close to expectant hearts.

And so it was … and tonight we did ‘stand / … glad to have recovered what is lost.’ And though these images are written well enough upon the aforementioned hearts, still the photographs, the written record, will remind us, over time, to stand … glad, again and again and again. Awed.


Empty, it fills with light

Photo at 2CRG

Sometimes it’s just a line that leaps out of a poem. And the line stays with you all day.

‘Empty, it fills with light …’ 

A Brass Bowl

Worn to brightness, this
bowl opens outward
to the world, like
the marriage of a pair
we sometimes know.
Filled full, it holds
not greedily. Empty,
it fills with light
that is Heaven’s and
its own. It holds
forever for a while.

Wendell Berry
The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997
A Timbered Choir  

Winter’s accumulation

A purification

At start of spring I open a trench
in the ground. I put into it
the winter’s accumulation of paper,
pages I do not want to read
again, useless words, fragments,
errors. And I put into it
the contents of the outhouse:
light of the sun, growth of the ground,
finished with one of their journeys.
To the sky, to the wind, then,
and to the faithful trees, I confess
my sins: that I have not been happy
enough, considering my good luck;
have listened to too much noise;
have been inattentive to wonders;
have lusted after praise.
And then upon the gathered refuse
of mind and body, I close the trench,
folding shut again the dark,
the deathless earth. Beneath that seal
the old escapes into the new.

Wendell Berry
New Collected Poems, page 233

I’ve just written a note to a friend about appreciation of the year’s seasons and in the act of doing so came to wonder if others have experienced the way a particular book within a bookcase can suddenly catch the light and call one to open its pages? Like synapses in the brain and the corridors of the mind lead us to re-collection, of stored information, and to our senses. So, for me, tonight.

And what a sane man the farming poet Wendell Berry appears always to me to be – one who understands seasons, and planting, and metaphor, and actions, each having purpose and proper place. We all gather material we “do not want to read again”. How great a grace it is that warms us “at start of Spring”, encouraging  examen, inner consideration of our place within the outer world, and the willing handing over to the earthy processes of death and resurrection that enable our continued becoming: metamorphosis – “the old escapes into the new”.


A long-time special friend gave us an unknown fruit as we left her home recently. Neither of us remembered ever having seen one before, nor knew its name. So we ate it, and enjoyed it, and then made inquiry: “it’s persimmon”. And for hours afterwards I wondered where I’d heard of such a fruit before. How often have I said that one thing leads to another? A procession of common fruits passed my mind’s eye – and when I alighted upon berries I had my answer. Of course, Wendell Berry! …

The Wild Geese

Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer’s end. In time’s maze
over fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed’s marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear,
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.

Wendell Berry

What I find most fascinating about this slow-on-the-uptake remembrance is that I’ve loved this poem for years. And yet it can’t have been so much the words themselves that I have loved, for surely I’d have recalled the presence of persimmon herein earlier? What I have loved are – something I was writing about a day or two ago – the spaces in between. Here’s poetry’s genius: “we open a persimmon seed”. We reach inward.

Here within this poem, and between the lines, lies immensely poignant reaching to express what another great poet, the late W H Vanstone (in his marvellous hymn about the crucified Christ), called “love’s endeavour, love’s expense”. Seasons. The dearly loved (like old and special friends) temporally alive around us now, and – especially in times of autumnal reflection and remembrance – “names that went west from here”.

Where shall we find comfort when “summer days” (our own, as well as others’) are past? Well, says Berry, “in the seed’s marrow”, somewhere deep in the heart of our lives, “in promise, / pale”, in the place where we’re able to let go, to “abandon”, to fly, honking encouragement to one another, to live some more, and then to die, and again to live, between the lines, secure in faith, “quiet in heart, and in eye / clear. What we need is here.”

What a grace! A long-time special friend gave us an unknown fruit and in the spaces in between we’re led to “what we need is here”. Grace. Yes, and peace.