Listening to the Glistening Words

As January nears completion, I am struck by the timbre and tone of emotions shared by so many, including myself, who struggle to navigate our unsettling times. There’s a yearning for some basic frivolity, a longing for a brightness to alight the heart.

Sometimes the just right words seem to float into the just right spaces at the just right times, and that’s what happened this month as I celebrated the glorious words of two very different poets who exemplify a hope I find to be especially uplifting.

In the poem “Woods” by Wendell Berry, the speaker enters the forest and parts the branches of trees that are not only blessed, but are capable of giving blessing. Silent, dark, and heavy are the words the speaker chooses to describe himself as he enters that shaded place beneath the trees.


I part the out thrusting branches/
and come in beneath/
the blessed and the blessing trees./
Though I am silent/
there is singing around me./
Though I am dark/
there is vision around me./
Though I am heavy/
there is flight around me.

—Wendell Berry

Once nestled beneath that isolated fortress of bark and branch, the speaker acknowledges sounds and sights in marked contrast to his own subdued and silent state. He hears singing. He senses vision. He acknowledges movement. There is a transformative quality and freshness to this place of reflection. I have to believe the speaker is literally referring to birds in the trees, but metaphorically referring to perhaps spiritual beings, like angels, and the visionary distillates of discernment. The speaker experiences something different than his depressed state of being. He is surrounded by grace.

And of course, a new voice, a new light, certainly graced the podium at President Joe Biden’s inauguration this month, as the national youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman took our breath away with her fluid words and gestures in “The Hill We Climb.” Her poem begins in a state of lessened light as day arrives and “we” wonder where to search for light.

SUNRISE. photo by Jessie Eastland. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Note the beginning lines of her poem:

When day comes we ask ourselves,/
where can we find light in this never-ending shade?/

And the ending lines of her poem:

When day comes we step out of the shade,/
aflame and unafraid/
The new dawn blooms as we free it/
For there is always light,/
if only we’re brave enough to see it/
if only we’re brave enough to be it

In a lyrical symphony of end rhyme, slant rhyme, internal rhyme, alliteration, metaphor, and a host of other literary techniques, this poem lights a journey from dimness to brilliance.

Words are possibilities. “Take care what you hear,” are the words of Christ to his disciples in the gospel of Mark 4:21-25.

Hoping you find this day and your days ahead brightened, if not enlightened with the healing power of words.
Thanks for stopping by.

Wendell Berry New Collected Poems. Counterpoint Press, Berkeley, CA (2012).