poetry, poetry humor

The Peace of Wild Things


South Bank, May 2011

“I have a poem to read before we eat,” I told my sister, Sierra, as we were searching for bright plastic Easter eggs filled with candy. The little children had finished their egg hunt in the front yard already. Now, we grown “kids” were running around the back yard looking for treasure.

“Did you write it?” Sierra asked, knowing that I do that occasionally.

“No, it’s a poem by Wendell Berry,” I said.

“Dingleberry?” my sister-in-law, Stacy, asked, joining us for the end of the conversation.  “What’s this about a dingleberry?”

“Not dingleberry,” I said. “Wendell Berry.”

They both cracked up laughing.

“I brought a poem by WENDELL Berry to read before we eat,” I said, clarifying.

“Oh, that’s better. I wondered why you were talking about dingleberries,” she said. Both women laughed again.

“WENDELL Berry,” I repeated, slowly. “I was just trying to bring a little culture to our family,” I said, feigning disgust. Little did I know.

As we headed back toward the house, they explained to me that “dingleberry” is a slang word for a “small clot of dung clinging to the hindquarters of an animal.” At least, that’s how dictionary.com described it. If only my sisters had been so dignified.

“I thought it was just a nonsense word,” I said, embarrassed.

“Nope,” Sierra said. “It’s a real word.”

On behalf of my whole family, my apologies to Mr. Wendell Berry.

I had spent a good deal of time thinking about what, if anything, I should say or read to my family on Easter Sunday. We would come to the table with a variety of thoughts and opinions about why we were gathered there that day. No one would object to a prayer. But would a prayer startle them? A small speech about newness might set the wrong tone. I wasn’t trying to persuade them of anything.

I just had this sense of gratitude – for Spring, for family, for life – that I wanted to wrap them all in, despite the grief and struggle that make up too much of our days. Poetry alone would have the subtlety to communicate that, to startle them all into hearing.

“When despair for the world grows in me,” Mr. Berry’s poem, The Peace of Wild Things began. I knew it was right.

When the kitchen counter was filled with bowls of potato salad and plates of grilled burgers, after the potato chip bags were opened and the tomato slices laid out next to the buns, my dad gathered us.

“Charity has a poem she wants to read,” he announced.

With no further introduction, I read to them of despair and fear, of the wood drake and the great heron. I described a laying down and a looking up. The poem ended with the word “free,” and we all stood quiet for a few seconds.

Then the laughter began again, along with the retelling of the dingleberry confusion and my insistence that this family needed a little more panache. We loaded plates and filled cups. Toddlers ran squealing through the house, hungry but refusing to eat.

And I rested again in the peace of wild things.

Photo by Michael Sissons. Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Charity Singleton.

Wendell Berry, “The Peace of Wild Things” from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry. Copyright © 1998.


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Your Comments

32 Comments so far

  1. L. L. Barkat says:

    I love this, Charity! :) It’s great to see you tapping your humorous side (you thought you didn’t have one, as I recall. Now, look, you definitely do! :)

  2. I think Mr. Wendell Berry would be delighted by the whole dingleberry thing. His Port William books have so much humor, especially Burley Coulter.

    And that particular poem–I saved snippets of it for three years before I realized it was all the same thing.

    You done good, Charity!

  3. Oh, indeed. I just clicked over to read that poem. It’s grande good.

    And about this telling… it’s so great to have siblings bitten by the SillyBug. It is. I’m saying this because I need the affirmation about myself. My family all thinks I’ve flown out of and over the nest, ya know?

    Anyway, what’s panache? A sort of breakfast bread? Or whipped cream? Or both, together. Whatever it is, I reckon (& hope) it’s not so dingle-ish.

    (psssttt, miss Charity, I didn’t know this was you until I read LL’s comment. You got some funny bones, girl. Yeehaaw!)

  4. This is perfectly delightful, Charity. You’re not the first person who has shared the rich beauty of Wendell Berry, but you’ve convinced me that I must no longer procrastinate in acquiring his works for myself. Thank you.

  5. Oh, Charity! This is the perfect telling of when serious and silly meet. (I am the serious one in my family, too.) I know you were working on writing this before Sendak’s passing, but that particular connection through Wendell Berry’s title makes this piece even richer. You made me laugh and got me misty-eyed all in one post.

  6. I grew up hearing my dad use the word “dinglefritz” (must be dingleberry’s German cousin) almost like a swear word. So this story made me laugh for all kinds of reasons.

    And then it snuck up and quieted me.

    I like that.

  7. LL and Darlene – I think the key to writing humor, for me, is to have a funny story to tell. We laughed and laughed about this one, and I was hoping it would be funny to others. I actually do laugh a lot in real life, but my writing can get all serious. I need to work on that disconnect!

  8. Megan – I suspect you are right about Wendell Berry. Rumor has it that he has a great, if not a tad bit crass, sense of humor in person. This is the kind of story I’d want to tell him while sitting on the front porch drinking iced tea.

  9. GREAT post, Charity. I hope we’re BOTH wearing boots today. Seems we’ve both decided to spend a little time with farm animals today. :)

  10. Patricia – I highly recommend Wendell Berry in all his writing. I love his poetry and essays, but I his fiction is his best work, if you ask me. My favorite novel is “Hannah Coulter,” but I always recommend that people start with “That Distant Land.” It is excerpts and short stories from all his work. His stores all take place in the fictional town of Port William, and That Distant Land is like a family history. It introduces all the main characters. Happy reading!

  11. Darcy – Yes, the “wild things” in this particular story are even more relevant to Sendak’s passing because the wild things in his book referred to his family members, as well. Though from what I understand, his family life was more of a struggle than mine.

  12. Lyla – I cracked up when I read “dinglefritz.” I have definitely not heard of that one. Should I consult dictionary.com, or my sisters, on that one? It was a real privilege to work with you on this article.

  13. Jennifer – yes, we are in deep, aren’t we? Thanks for your encouragement.

  14. Sierra Sanders says:

    The comment, “Then it snuck up and quieted me” WOW, that is the truth. My beautiful, intelligent, very funny sister has been gifted with having a way with words. Combined with her sweet, patient nature, she often has that effect on people. More specifically, she often has that effect on me. You have done it once again dear sister. On the other hand, our sister-in-law also has a way with words which you all know if you read the story :)

  15. Sky says:

    Haha I love Wendell Berry and I would always defend him; but I have to defend the dingleberry too! Sierra your comment was so nice, but I think you mean “affect”. Hehe

  16. Sky says:

    But I’m not positive because those two words always mix me up! Haha

  17. Sky and Sierra – Thanks for coming over to comment! You guys are awesome! What a fun day that was, hunting Easter eggs and stuffing our faces. I love you both.

    (Oh, and Sierra is right on this one. It’s “effect” when it’s a noun, and it’s “affect” when it’s a verb, with one exception, but I won’t get into it noun. I’m not trying to “effect” that kind of change!)

  18. What? You hint at a grammatical exception and then don’t give details?

    Way to leave us … umm … hanging, Charity.

  19. L. L. Barkat says:

    You won’t get into it noun? Is that a hint? Freudian slip? (Do Freudian slips come in flannel or with itchy lace?)

  20. So funny the I typed “noun.” Freudian indeed. The exception is “effect” as a verb in a few instances like “effect change,” which I not do cleverly included in the comment. “Flannel slips” and leaving you guys “hanging” – that’s why I live you guys so much!

  21. L. L. Barkat says:

    Live us, do. We love that effect. ;-)

  22. I think I’ll stop using my iPhone to respond to comments!

  23. Is that something you would do vicariously, Charity? I mean living us.

  24. Charity, a beautiful article: funny and poignant all rolled in one. And the Dingle, er, Wendell Berry poem? Just reading it brings the peace of wild things. Thank you.

  25. Amber says:

    Too funny! There isan Andrew Peterson lyric that reads “peace in the wild things” that resonate more as I get older. It also reminds me of darcy’s danger post.

  26. Nick Singleton says:

    To my wonderful sister who never stops amazing/inspiring me. You may be the only person in the history of literature referencing who has compared an author to poo and yet still raised his book sells. Well done. I applaud you.


    Your Little Brother

  27. Chris Yokel says:

    Andrew Peterson has written a great song inspire by this poem. It’s called “The Magic Hour”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCbWnjs_HGQ

  28. Kimberlee, Amber, Mary, Chris – Thanks for your kind words, for the great tip on the Petersen song, and for joining me in the peace of this poem.

    Nick – I am a lucky big sister!

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