Poets Online Archive
March 2006

Wendell Berry's poem "The Wild Geese" is well known. I came across it again in an odd Google way.  While searching for some sermons that use poetry (don't ask) I found at least 2 that use that particular poem: sermon #1 and  sermon #2. 

It made me reread the poem and rethink the poem.  I usually read Berry through a nature filter and this poem can certainly be read that way. So, now I read it through a Biblical lilies-of-the-field filter, and that works well too.

Trying to sum up a poem in a word is a dangerous game ("Now, class," says the teacher, "what is the theme of this poem?") but for right now I'm thinking that for this poem it is "contentment".  Contentment  like when you have appeased your desires, or perhaps you have limited what you require to be content. For your writing prompt this month, explore the idea of contentment - how to achieve it, what prevents us from reaching it, in a spiritual or physical way.

You can find "The Wild Geese" in several books including Wendell Berry's Collected Poems and his collection A Timbered Choir; the Sabbath Poems (Counterpoint Press)

Please  look at our blog for more on this poem and prompt, and join a conversation with fellow poets.


Wendell Berry is an American writer who is best known for his nature poetry, novels of the rural past, and essays about environmental responsibility. He received his B.A. and M.A. from the University of Kentucky and has taught at Stanford and NYU, finally returning to the University of Kentucky from 1964 -1977.


She learned French for its beauty and
lack of function in every day conversation.
She spoke in cursive:
voice, a pen dipped into the ink well,
quill tapped with a clear of the throat and
then dancing over the syllables.
Surely there is a reminder here
that if I were to change the subject,
Montrichard would soon be revisited.
If I were to mention the beauty of a
perfectly setting sun and browse all diction
for the proper names of the colors,
she would demand
it is not orange or yellow but a
Rouge foncé
There is a lyricism, a rhythm, to the song
she sings as loudly as she
feels alone,
and I will hum along—not sure of the words,
melodic faux pas.
More than anything,
this will be--for me-- the minuet da capo
and to you
the soothing sound of me
falling into the sun.

Trevor Taniguchi


I am content.
I work beyond the usual age
Of retirement.
My wife jokes, “You should work less,”
It is only one of the few sentences
We interchange.
She continues,
“Can we afford it?”

After work, I go to the grocery
Top Tomato or Viva Rancho
The produce is not always perfect
Like in a Hollywood film
But it is, “Good enough,”
To use a professional phrase.

This winter they are big on Chilean peaches,
The globe grapes are perfect
The California navel orange
Are worthy of the Golden Gate,
The romaine lettuce needs to loose a leaf,
The large red peppers sweet,
The hot house cucumbers from Canada
Big enough to be a stage prop of a satyr’s phallus,
And white asparagus from Peru is fine.

The clerks here are not school girls
But more mature mujeres.
All is checked out in silence.
But she adds, “You have enough for a free bag
Of onions or potatoes.",
“Who will you choose?”

In my hesitation I think
Of my wife saying,”Why so much?,
We are not having a banquet,
You only know how to waste,”
In bounty finding discontent the malcontent.

Several plastic bags are filled.
I can carry them away
With strong arms and my broad shoulders.
No question, I can afford to pay.
The woman who has checked me out
Asks,” Are you married?”

And in my answer I am content.

Edward N. Halperin


When endless striving ceases
And today is more than tomorrow
I am what I am
We are what we are
You and I

The day we met again
After all those years
Damaged as we were
We agreed that it was best
To have low expectations

I said, let’s go one better
Have no expectations
And be open to anything
Low expectations
May open to nothing

We can live our lives separately
But not alone
Side by side
As compassionate strangers
Look out for each other

So it came as some surprise to find
That without effort
Without adjustment
We sometimes felt and thought
As one

Now speak together
Laugh, get angry, forgive, let go
Our lives vibrate to the same old songs
Some killjoy might say
A little too much so

What is that moment
When terror subsides?
To discover that somehow
You and I have stopped
Not fitting in?

That moment
When you turn to me
And speak the words
(As I am thinking them)
“At least you get me”.

Iris Lavell


Seeking destination
and tiring of journey
I was seduced
by the home's
windows, bright
with a warm fire
a child's laugh
from the backyard
the scent of pumpkin
pie and vanilla and
the man seated in front
reading a book,
stroking a dog's head.

I lingered there
too long.
Sleepy from food
wine and sex, I awoke
to find the house empty,
no firewood or provisions,
late autumn turned early
winter, and the dog
howling at the full moon
from far down the road.

Lianna Wright


To marry a pretty mail order bride
Much younger than you
To escape from the sister who is your housekeeper, keeper
And sing and sing and sing
In the voice of true happiness
Is the dream of a rich middle-aged man.

Let’s not leave out the motive of the bride--
Tired feet.
Passionate sex brings the husband another man’s child.
Forgiveness all around.
Man, wife, if they keep their eyes on the big picture,
Expect a lifetime of contentment.

In contrast, their farm hand who never gets angry,
Cool Herman, prides himself on his coolness,
Mistaking it for contentment
Until he pummels the man who insults his sweetheart.
Now amazed at his new found feelings
He knows he has found contentment.

All are “ Most Happy Fella” s

Ellen Kaplan


The day beckons
Crisp and clear from my kitchen window
Warm with a breeze nipping
Like a playful puppy.
A lawnmower saws through the peace like a fat man snoring
Unabashed and unconcerned with the peace I seek,
With the balance I am desperately begging from this day.
Children play within earshot and my chamomile tea is sweet and warm
But all I wonder is where you are.
Jealousy slinks in like a noxious odor
And I am seething at your eyes for being so close to your face
Hating your lips and your hands for experiencing a world apart
From me.

I am here
Everything is as I know it
Except you?re missing
And I take you in my mind to the theatre, the performance, the artist discussion,
To the thoughts that race through my head in creation
You are with me and I wonder
If I was with you
When you stepped off the plane and saw that new city for the first time
Was I with you
As you ate your first meal or explored your new neighborhood
Made your first friend?

These thoughts a growing discontent
Like rain picking up speed as a storm explodes
At war with this beautiful day
A divider between me and the children laughing outside my window.
I am here and the sky is a vibrant periwinkle.
If I walk outside under its gaze
Will it be strong enough to balance me again?
Will it be loud enough to tell me I am here and here is me and me is all I need?

Cecly Placenti


Since I don't expect to find it,
I find it in unexpected places.

In the cabinet over the sink,
in a package I had forgotten.
Briefly on my son's pillow,
still warm from dreaming.
Last Sunday, it was in sunlight
that crossed my closed eyes.

I don't expect it to last very long,
so I am delighted to see it return.

Seven times on the solstice,
twice on the third Saturday of June.
And, though I continue to look for it,
only once under the pebbles of a river.
In 2000, I found it in a clear horizon.
I mistakenly thought I was holding it

in my hand during the spring I was 47,
but it was simply self-acceptance.

Ken Ronkowitz

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