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The Peace of Wild Things

SATB divisi a cappella

Difficulty out of 5

The Composition

Wendell Berry’s poem took special meaning to me the summer of 2008 while living at Holden Village, a remote community buried deep in the Cascade Mountains of Washington state. “Home” included grandiose mountain peaks, tame bucks, deep glacier lakes, big black bears, and an eclectic gathering of people. There, I found that living amidst ‘the peace of wild things’ was not an escape from reality, but rather a powerful reminder of the interconnectedness of our world – a notion that our shared commonalities are far stronger than our inevitable divides. 

Dedicated to my mother and father, and written for the Michigan State University Chamber Choir in 2009. Performed and recorded shortly thereafter by the St. Olaf College Chapel Choir under the direction of Dr. Michael Hanawalt.

The Poem & Poet

The works of Wendell Berry (b. 1934) stand as an autonomous voice in American literature today. His many novels, essays, and poetry collections interweave nostalgia for a lost harmony amidst humanity and the earth we inhabit. Poems, including The Peace of Wild Things, interplay pressing environmental concerns against a broader cultural anxiety paining for relief – a yearning for both inner and outer peace. In much of his writing, one can vicariously experience the alternative lifestyle that he’s chosen; to this day, he lives with sparse technology upon the land that he farms in Kentucky. This poem is used with his gracious permission – a letter scribed on a typewriter and delivered the old fashioned way, via the postal service.  

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.


Copyright © 1999 by Wendell Berry from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry. Reprinted with permission of Counterpoint Press. 

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