A ‘Poetic Pause’ in Honour of Mental Health Week
In the spirit of Mental Health Awareness Week’s theme being ‘connecting with nature’, we asked one literature lover to choose a favourite poem about connecting with nature.
Rachael King teaches Literature/Humanities at the University of Edinburgh and has been an invaluable support to her sister, Wednesday’s Child team member Abi, throughout her recovery from an eating disorder.
THE PEACE OF WILD THINGS
by Wendell Berry
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.
Rachael says: “In this poem, Wendell Berry, a farmer, activist and writer, medicates his worry and sleeplessness by connecting to nature, finding peace in the wild. The collective anxiety we have experienced over the past year due to the pandemic can perhaps be compared to that felt in the 1960s (this poem was first published in 1968) when the future of humanity was far from secure, lying under the spectre of the Cold War, Vietnam War, presidential assassinations and civil unrest.
I love the simplicity and brevity of this poem. It offers a very individual response to the overwhelming sense of helplessness we all might feel at some time or another. We are immediately drawn into the speaker's thoughts, as he acknowledges the angst he feels about things he knows are not within his control. I think we can all relate to waking in the night, feeling overwhelmed to the point of fear. The lack of punctuation speeds us along in reading the first three lines, the thoughts are fitful, panicky. But then, just as the reader grows short of breath, we have the wonderful long vowels of 'go', 'lie', 'down'. We are forced to slow our reading and take note of the beautiful images of the Wood Drake and the Great Heron, at which point we are gifted a full stop. Breathe. The huge and wild world, made overwhelming by so many man-made things, now becomes a peaceful sanctuary. The animals, water, stars – all wild by their very nature – are not taxed by the worries of tomorrow or regrets of yesterday. It is through a ritual of watching the natural world unknowingly do its thing; a bird feeding, water reflecting, stars waiting, that our speaker finds freedom.”
- May 2021