The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry

By Wendell Berry

1,118 ratings - 4.36* vote

The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry gathers one hundred poems written between 1957 and 1996. Chosen by the author, these pieces have been selected from each of nine previously published collections. The rich work in this volume reflects the development of Berry’s poetic sensibility over four decades. Focusing on themes that have occupied his work for years--land and nature The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry gathers one hundred poems written between 1957 and 1996. Chosen by the author,

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Book details

Paperback, 192 pages
August 6th 1999 by Counterpoint

(first published October 1st 1998)

Original Title
The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry
1582430373 (ISBN13: 9781582430379)
Edition Language

Community Reviews


If I had to define the spirit of Berry’s poetry, I would appeal to the link that man is capable of stablishing between his secluded self and the earth that sustains him. The harmony of man’s life, and finally of his future survival and eventual death, depends on the profundity of that connection and the respect with which he treats the gift of life in all its forms, and the natural cycle that leads all living things to an ineludible end.

Berry doesn’t moralize or engage on superficial eulogy about the benefits of small communities versus unrestrained growth or the escalating overuse of technology; instead, he elevates the transient existence of man to the level of immortal poetry, which recalls a unique blend between Thoreau’s philosophical explorations and Wordsworth’s lyrical vision of the natural world.

This is the kind of book that lights up a spark of hope when grief, impotence or uncertainty cloud one’s vision. Berry’s poetry exudes with the comforting wisdom that nothing important is ever lost, for the essence of those you love remain imbedded in the everlasting rhythms of nature; in the impossible shapes of rivers and mountains, in the indescribable colors of stormy horizons, in the inexplicable symphony of birdsong, all of which exist around us only when we pay attention, only when we are ready to perceive a greater whole in the erratic ebb and flow of our limited emotions.
Hear this idea sung by Berry’s poetic voice:

“All that passes descends,
and ascends again unseen
into the light: the river
coming down from the sky
to hills, from hills to sea,
and carving as it moves,
to rise invisible,
gathered to light, to return

Gravity is grace.
All that has come to us
has come as the river comes,
given in passing away.”

The Gift of Gravity

“Whatever is singing
is found, awaiting the return
of whatever is lost.”

The Law That Marries All Things

To understand the rhythms, movements and metaphoric vision of Berry’s dance with words is to accept our place in the world, not with resignation but with grateful humility.
May readers dance to the melody of a liberated mind that has seen the light and captured its full glow, sealed it in verses and kept it intact for us to confront the impending darkness that awaits us at the end of our life journeys.
May Berry’s poetry remind you of who you were, of who you are, especially when you have lost your way in moments of anguish, in moments of loss.
“Remembering who we are, we live in eternity.”

Jeanette (Now on StoryGraph)

There are some poets from whom one poem is really all I needed, no matter how much of their other work I may read.
I could read my favorite Wendell Berry poem fifty or a hundred times in a row, and cry every single time. And that tells you just about everything you need to know about me. So I share it with you here.

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.

Barnabas Piper

I’ve tried to read some of Berry’s fiction and struggled to gain traction (not because I disliked it, just wrong time and frame of mind). His poetry, however is magnificent. Like any prolific poet he’s written so many of varying styles that I do not love every one. But the ones I love are indelibly beautiful.


This is an incredible poetry collection that spans years of Berry's life, reflecting his experiences and growth and thoughts over time. The poems are very accessible, even if you aren't a huge poetry reader (like me!). I found it very easy to read a few each night. He writes on topics of home, land, loss, cultural changes, and relationships in ways that feel profoundly personal and real. And my copy of the book is just full of dog-eared pages and marked passages that I hope to return to over the years and to share with those I love.


"The wheel of eternity is turning
in time, its rhymes, austere,
at long intervals returning,
sing in the mind, not in the ear." -Wendell Berry, from "From the Distance"

The 2017 documentary Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry restructured my worldview, my understanding of history and modernity and the ties binding rural and urban peoples, so I had to buy this book containing ninety of Berry's poems, selected by Berry himself in 1998. The earnest ease these poems take in their Biblical diction, their meandering gregariousness and sonority, their love of abstractions took a bit of getting used to at first, but with time I fell into stride quite happily. Beginning at the end of the book and working backward helped. The book is pastoral, not in a way that is escapist, but as a deliberate conscientious choice made at a morally troubling time in history. My favorite poems were "Horses" and "Elegy" (we can never learn enough about how to reconcile ourselves to death). I also liked the subtle depths, the balance between empathy and distance, in the narrative poems "Meditation in the Spring Rain" and "Creation Myth." Although most of these poems are free verse, "The Clear Days" shows Berry's talent for rhyme perfected. "Stay Home" is a delightful rejoinder to Frost's "The Pasture" -- you could almost think of it as a parody if you didn't sense the author was perfectly serious. The poem titled "Anglo-Saxon Protestant Heterosexual Men" touches interestingly on the identity issues that so often crop up in discourse these days.

Some quotes:

"To imagine the thoughtlessness
of a thoughtless thing
is useless.
The mind must sing
of itself to keep awake." -from "The Design of a House"


"the gathering of many into much" -from "The Winter Rain"


"I owned a slope full of stones.
Like buried pianos they lay in the ground,
shards of old sea-ledges...." -from "The Stones"


On birds at a feeder:

more sometimes than they eat.
And the man, knowing
the price of seed, wishes
they would take more care.
But they understand only
what is free.... Thus they have
enlightened him. He buys
the seed, to make it free." -from "Window Poems"


"every man
his own mosquito" -from "Window Poems"


"My old friend tells us how the country changed:
where the grist mill was on Cane Run....

"[M]y young friend says: 'Have him speak this
into a recorder. It is precious. It should be saved.'

"[D]o not tell a machine to save it.... Stay and listen
until he dies or you die.... Live here
as one who knows these things. Stay, if you live;
listen and answer." -from "The Record"


"It is dangerous
to remember the past only
for its own sake, dangerous
to deliver a message
you did not get." -from "In a Motel Parking Lot, Thinking of Dr. Williams"


"What can bring us past
this knowledge, so that you
will never wish our life
undone? For if ever you
wish it so, then I must wish
so too, and lovers yet unborn,
whom we are reaching toward
with love, will turn to this
page, and find it blank." -from "Duality"

On a somewhat tangential note, I was listening to some old albums the other day, and I imagined sharing the songs with an imagined fellow listener, drawing attention to bits I loved and why. And that reminded me why I joined Goodreads in the first place, some dozen years ago: just to share these "songs" I love with anyone who will listen.... So, for anyone who's read this far, thanks for listening along :-)


Once I was given the great gift of Wendell Berry's poem "Do Not Be Ashamed," which can be found in this selection of his poetry.

"Do Not Be Ashamed"

You will be walking some night
in the comfortable dark of your yard
and suddenly a great light will shine
round about you, and behind you
will be a wall you never saw before.
It will be clear to you suddenly
that you were about to escape,
and that you are guilty: you misread
the complex instructions, you are not
a member, you lost your card
or never had one. And you will know
that they have been there all along,
their eyes on your letters and books,
their hands in your pockets,
their ears wired to your bed.
Though you have done nothing shameful,
they will want you to be ashamed.
They will want you to kneel and weep
and say you should have been like them.
And once you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness.
They will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach. Be ready.
When their light has picked you out
and their questions are asked, say to them:
"I am not ashamed." A sure horizon
will come around you. The heron will begin
his evening flight from the hilltop.

Jessie Kennedy

Ugh I struggle with poetry! Really trying to learn to like it but it is tough sometimes. This collection had some real gems about nature and love but a few misses as well. The writer had kind of a neocolonial perspective sometimes which was not great.

Demetrius Rogers

I read a review one time that said Wendell Berry was a national treasure. I think that's a great assessment. This dude is amazing. I actually consider him a prophet, of sorts. A voice of one crying in the wilderness. A voice calling moderns back to simplicity, faithfulness, humility, honor - honor of roots, soil, sweat, and toil. The writings of WB act somewhat like a ballast to me. Some authors help me think big, others help me think small. Berry does the latter, and reminds me that it's not inconsequential. Small represents the things we get bored with or take for granted, yet, they're the things that hold us together and give our lives meaning.

This is a beautiful collection of poems. Ones that impart wisdom with such natural grace.

But, then, leave it to Berry, he includes this one self-effacing poem, perhaps my favorite:

A Warning to My Readers

Do not think me gentle
because I speak in praise
of gentleness, or elegant
because I honor the grace
that keeps this world. I am
a man crude as any,
gross of speech, intolerant,
stubborn, angry, full
of fits and furies. That I
may have spoken well
at times is not natural.
A wonder is what it is.


3.5 stars.
I am not qualified to rate poetry, I can only share what speaks to me. And these did:

The Broken Ground

The opening out and out,
body yielding body:
the breaking
through which the new
comes, perching
above its shadow
on the piling up
darkened broken old
husks of itself:
bud opening to flower
opening to fruit opening
to the sweet marrow
of the seed--
from what was, from
what could have been.
What is left
is what is


Did I believe I had a clear mind?
It was like the water of a river
flowing shallow over the ice. And now
that the rising water has broken
the ice, I see that what I thought
was the light is part of the dark.

Stephanie Dayonot

Wendell Berry is my favorite poet of them all. His poetry speaks to me on every spiritual and human level. His poems have changed my life. Simple as that. His words soothe and heal my soul when it is most in need. I'll be forever grateful that he took the time to write down his words and share them with the world. Most of my favorites of his are in this collection. I have so many of them memorized, thanks, in part, to knowing them by way of song via the great composer Malcolm Dalglish. Others, I committed to memory out of nothing more than the want to never be parted from them.