Monday, June 28, 2010

Wendell Berry on "How to be a Poet"

The poem reprinted below speaks to me as an artist as well as a poet. I heard the poem read by Berry himself on NPR last week ("Speaking of Faith" was the program) and I love it. Wendell Berry was already a favorite. I located the text at the Poetry Foundation website and I thank them for that.

The final phrases of this poem remind me of the Hypocratic oath for physicians that famously includes "first do no harm." Although I do believe that artists as well as poets must occasionally "disturb the silence" it seems to me a good practice to pause and reflect now and then on  Berry's advice, which he humbly gives to himself. (There's something about humility that may be harder for artists than poets to swallow - what do you think?)

How To Be a Poet

by Wendell Berry

(to remind myself)


Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.


Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.


Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

1 comment:

  1. Linda Corbin-PardeeJune 28, 2010 at 10:55 AM

    I find Berry to have the most Quakerly sensibility - so interesting to me. I value so much the Quaker practice of sitting in silence to find what is speaking within you, and how when it's "true", it doesn't disturb the silence, but instead seems to add to corporate silence. It's wonderful. Thanks for sharing, Eddee.