'What We Need Is Here' by Wendell Berry

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Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

Editor 1 Interpretation

"What We Need Is Here" by Wendell Berry

Do you ever feel like you're constantly searching for something that's just out of reach? Like you're always chasing after happiness, success, or love, but they always seem to slip through your fingers? In his poem "What We Need Is Here," Wendell Berry reminds us that everything we need in life is already here, right in front of us. We just need to open our eyes and see.

The Poem

Before we dive into the details of the poem, let's take a moment to read it in its entirety:

Geese appear high over us, pass, and the sky closes. Abandon, as in love or sleep, holds them to their way, clear in the ancient faith: what we need is here. And we pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye, clear. What we need is here.

At first glance, this poem may seem simple and straightforward. It's only eight lines, and there are no complex metaphors or elaborate language. But as we delve deeper into the poem, we begin to see the layers of meaning and symbolism that Berry has woven into his words.


The poem begins with a simple observation: geese flying overhead. But even this seemingly straightforward image is imbued with meaning. The geese represent the passing of time, the cycle of life and death, and the transient nature of existence. They are here one moment, and gone the next, just like everything else in life.

But even as the geese disappear from view, the sky remains. The sky is a constant presence, always there, always unchanged. It represents the eternal, the unchanging, the infinite. And in the face of this infinite sky, the things we worry about - our worries, our fears, our desires - seem insignificant.

The poem then introduces the idea of "abandon." This is a word that can have both positive and negative connotations. On the one hand, it can mean giving up, letting go, surrendering. On the other hand, it can mean freedom, release, and liberation. In the case of the geese, abandonment means letting go of the worries and fears that hold us back and trusting in the "ancient faith" that everything we need is already here.

So what do we need? The poem tells us: we need to be quiet in heart, and in eye, clear. This is a powerful statement, and it's worth taking a moment to unpack its meaning. To be quiet in heart means to be at peace, to let go of the turmoil and noise that so often fill our minds. To be clear in eye means to see things as they truly are, without the distortions of fear, desire, or expectation.

But what does it mean to say that "what we need is here"? Here, where? In the world around us, in the present moment, in the sky above us. Berry is reminding us that the things we seek - happiness, love, fulfillment - are not somewhere else, in some other time or place. They are right here, in this moment, in this world. All we need to do is open our eyes and see them.

Literary Criticism

As a literary critic, it's tempting to analyze this poem in terms of its structure, its use of language, its historical context, or its relationship to other works of literature. And there is certainly much to say on all of these fronts. But what strikes me most about this poem is its simplicity, its directness, and its accessibility.

Berry has a way of distilling complex ideas into simple, evocative images that anyone can understand. He doesn't use elaborate metaphors or obscure allusions. He speaks directly to the reader, using language that is clear and unadorned. And yet, despite this simplicity, the poem contains a wealth of meaning and symbolism.

This is a poem that can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of their level of education or familiarity with poetry. It speaks to universal human experiences - the passing of time, the search for meaning, the longing for peace - in a way that is both profound and accessible. And in an age when so much literature is inaccessible or esoteric, this is a rare and valuable quality.


"What We Need Is Here" is a beautiful and deeply meaningful poem that reminds us of the beauty and richness of the world around us. It encourages us to let go of our worries and fears and trust in the "ancient faith" that everything we need is already here. And it does so in a way that is both simple and profound, universal and accessible.

Whether you are a lifelong lover of poetry or someone who has never read a poem before in your life, I urge you to read this poem and take its message to heart. It may not solve all of your problems or answer all of life's questions, but it will remind you of the beauty and richness of the world around you, and that is a message that we all need to hear.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

What We Need Is Here: A Poem of Hope and Connection

Wendell Berry's poem "What We Need Is Here" is a powerful reminder of the importance of being present in the moment and finding joy in the simple things in life. In a world that often seems chaotic and overwhelming, Berry's words offer a sense of hope and connection to the natural world that surrounds us.

The poem begins with the line "Geese appear high over us," immediately drawing the reader's attention to the beauty of the natural world. The image of geese flying overhead is a common one, but Berry's use of the word "appear" suggests that there is something magical about this moment. The geese are not just flying by, they are making themselves known to us, reminding us of the wonder and mystery of the world we live in.

As the poem continues, Berry describes the various ways in which nature is present in our lives, even when we may not be aware of it. He writes of "the clear pebbles of the rain" and "the soft name of the wildflowers," both of which are small, seemingly insignificant details that are often overlooked. But Berry reminds us that these details are important, that they are part of the larger tapestry of life that surrounds us.

The poem also speaks to the idea of community and connection. Berry writes of "the familiar voice of the mind" and "the known world visible in the maps." These lines suggest that there is a shared experience that we all have, a common language that we speak. We may come from different backgrounds and have different experiences, but we are all part of the same world, and we all have a role to play in it.

One of the most powerful lines in the poem is "We pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye, clear." This line speaks to the idea that we don't need to search for something new or different in order to find happiness and fulfillment. Instead, we need to be present in the moment, to be still and quiet, and to appreciate the beauty that is already around us.

The poem ends with the line "We have come to be danced, not the nice invisible, self conscious shuffle, but the matted hair flying, voodoo mama, shaman shakin' ancient dance of life, the wild, free, rhythmic dance that is prayer, the body's heartbeat, the way we breathe." This final stanza is a call to action, a reminder that we are not meant to simply exist in this world, but to fully embrace it. We are meant to dance, to move, to live with passion and purpose.

Overall, "What We Need Is Here" is a poem that speaks to the importance of being present in the moment, of finding joy in the simple things in life, and of connecting with the natural world around us. It is a reminder that we are all part of a larger community, and that we all have a role to play in making the world a better place. As we navigate the challenges of our daily lives, it is important to remember the wisdom of Wendell Berry's words, and to find joy and meaning in the world around us.

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