Wendell Berry’s ‘The Want Of Peace’
by Terry Heick
There can’t be higher recreation than contentment.
This is at odds with our natural pattern to constantly seek new and more. Thus is born our daily struggle. Poet, farmer, essayist, and teacher Wendell Berry laments his own “lack of simple things” in ‘The Want of Peace,’ asking about our collective trade–“selling the world to buy fire.”
The structure of the poem is straightforward, which furthers the theme–2 stanzas, 8 lines per stanza, unrhymed. The imagery is elemental and simple without being simpleminded, while the diction (excess, silence, musing, fire, burning, bent, darkness, dumb) hint at the implicit lessons available with closer reading.
Berry’s poetry style is reminiscent of Robert Frost’s, even if he lacks Frost’s square neatness and affection for scheme, meter, and structure.
The Want of Peace
by Wendell Berry
All goes back to the earth,
and so I do not desire
pride of excess or power,
but the contentments made
by men who have had little:
the fisherman’s silence
receiving the river’s grace,
the gardener’s musing on rows.
I lack the peace of simple things.
I am never wholly in place.
I find no peace or grace.
We sell the world to buy fire,
our way lighted by burning men,
and that has bent my mind
and made me think of darkness
and wish for the dumb life of roots.
“The Want of Peace” by Wendell Berry from New Collected Poems. © Counterpoint Press, 2012. (buy now)
‘The Want Of Peace’ By Wendell Berry; adapted image attribution flickr user stevegarry; ‘The Want Of Peace’ By Wendell Berry