‘‘The Peace of Wild Things’’ begins with the poet, writing in first person, describing what he likes to do when his mind becomes agitated and he needs to calm down. He presents himself as a man who is concerned about the state of the world. He appears to have no hope that the condition of the world will improve, although he offers no details about his worries. Perhaps he has in mind war, poverty, and injustice, all the things that plague humanity and seem to continue despite the best efforts of well-intentioned people to end them. In line 2, the poet makes it clear how deep this worry in his mind is, since he will wake up at night if there is even the slightest of sounds and the worry will start again. In line 3 it becomes apparent that he fears for the future, not only for himself but also for his children. Perhaps he harbors the fear that there may be some cataclysm or other devastating event that would radically change human society for the worse. He feels a father’s care for the future welfare of his children. But he does not merely lie in bed awake, worrying. He has a solution, not for the world’s problems, but for his own peace of mind. As he explains in line 4, he gets out of bed in the dead of night and goes outside and heads for a tranquil place in nature, no doubt nearby and a place he has visited many times before. It must be a lake or a pond, and he is familiar with the bird life he finds there, such as the wood drake (a male wood duck) and the great heron, a wading bird. The poet lies down near the water and seems to identify with the wild life he is now close to; he is deeply conscious of the beauty of nature.
In these lines the poet explains about how getting out into the natural world cures him of the agitation and worry that he had been experiencing as he lay awake at home. He feels at peace now, and this is because he is able to sense and share in the way animals and birds live. There is peacefulness in nature because the animal and bird kingdoms do not, unlike humans, have the capacity to worry about the future. An animal or bird is incapable of feeling the agitation that the poet felt in the opening lines of the poem, because it has no concept of the future; it cannot worry that the future might bring something bad, unlike humans, for whom such thoughts come all too easily. Animals and birds therefore do not experience life as a burden. In line 8, the poet comments on the tranquility of the scene; the water in the lake or pond is still. It is as if he has suddenly stepped into another world that is altogether more peaceful than the human world.
In the final three lines, the poet widens the scene. In the previous lines, he has appreciated the presence of the birds and of the water. Now he becomes aware of the stars shining above him. He does not say that he looks up at them; rather, he feels their presence too. He thinks of the fact that the stars are not visible during the day; they show themselves to humans only at night, so it is as if throughout the day they are waiting to show their light. He concludes with an observation about how he now feels. Although he knows the feeling is only temporary, he feels at peace and at rest, and this gives him a sense of freedom.
Poetry for Students, Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Poetry, Volume 30, Wendell Berry, Gale Cengage Learning, 2009