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The Want of Peace

for SSAATTBB Choir A Cappella

(Difficulty 5 out of 5)

The Composition

This setting of "The Want of Peace" strives to honor the values that guide Mr. Berry’s lifelong work. It juxtaposes a yearning for both human and environmental harmony, and explores the interrelation between unsustainable environmental policy and unsustainable cultural anxiety.


It embraces the metaphoric ambiguity alive in the poem, as if Mr. Berry intended to plant a seed within each of us that grows questions regarding the broader interconnectedness of our human race – how our compassion for self, neighbor, land, and lifestyle are interwoven beyond our deepest comprehension. 

"The Want of Peace" was written for, and premiered by, Magnum Chorum (Artistic Director, Mark Stover) in celebration of the choir's 25th Anniversary.

How to Order

Select "Order .pdf" above and then in the prompted email, send your name, the performing ensemble, and the requested number of copies. A .pdf score will then be emailed to you within 24 hours. If complications or questions arise, please contact the composer/arranger here.

The Poet & Poem

The writings of Wendell Berry (b. 1934) stand as an autonomous voice in American literature today. His many novels, essays, poetry collections, and speeches interweave nostalgia for a lost harmony amidst humanity and the earth we inhabit. Poems, including The Want of Peace, interplay pressing environmental concerns against a broader cultural anxiety paining for relief – a yearning for both inner and outer peace. In his masterworks, one can vicariously experience the alternative lifestyle that he’s chosen; to this day, he lives without computer or cell phone 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 Want of Peace

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).


Copyright © 1999 by Wendell Berry from The Selected Poems of  

Wendell Berry. Reprinted with permission of Counterpoint Press. 

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