Words of WonderThe silence - Wendell Berry

Though the air is full of singing
my head is loud
with the labor of words.

Though the season is rich
with fruit, my tongue
hungers for the sweet of speech.

Though the beech is golden
I cannot stand beside it
mute, but must say

‘It is golden,’ while the leaves
stir and fall with a sound
that is not a name.

It is in the silence
that my hope is, and my aim.
A song whose lines

I cannot make or sing
sounds men’s silence
like a root. Let me say

and not mourn: the world
lives in the death of speech
and sings there.

by Wendell Berry


Wendell Berry has worked as a farmer for over 40 years on his own land using horses and organic methods – he is also an author of over 50 books and writes poems, essays, novels, and he’s been an important voice in the environmental movement. (The Poetry Foundation has given a good size overview of his life). I find myself a bit fascinated by him, whether listening to an interview with him or reading about his life – or stumbling upon a (to me) new poem from his hand.

The one above particularly resonated with me after I’d ventured into the Pentland hills for the first time since lockdown for a midsummer solo adventure of wandering through its hills and valleys, with the simple intention to find my way there as well as in my life. There are many sounds in the Pentlands in summer: bleating of sheep, crows playing on the wind, the wind (and frequent rain) flapping about my ears, as well as one of my favourite sounds in all the world: the jubilant songbursts of skylarks. And in between, ‘my head is loud with the labor of words’ as Wendell says here… Like in any retreat setting, the absence of words around me give such volume to the ones inside. And at the same time, every moment is the invitation to turn out, to hear the ‘song whose lines I cannot make or sing’, to rest in the bigness of the moment, of space.

And after a while, the loudness in my head gets a bit quieter, my attention again and again drawn into the richness of the world around me and as the space between my thoughts increases, so does the clarity, the knowing. Such a gift… and as silence in my day to day life of family and work is confined to patches, the benefits of a retreat day here and there are all the greater, whether it’s a sitting or a walking one.

Solstice blessings to you, and may the harvest of the seeds planted in the first half of the year ‘be rich with fruit’!


PS To explore the space that opens up in silence, join us on one of the free daily practice sessions on zoom, every workday at 10.30am and 7pm UK time…

Photo by Matthias Cooper on Unsplash