It’s Earth Day tomorrow, and Poetry Month all April long, so this slim volume of poems by Wendell Berry, one of our most eloquent spokesmen for the respectful care of the Earth, seemed like the perfect collection to share with you today.
Terrapin And Other Poems, by Wendell Berry, illustrated by Tom Pohrt
published in 2014 by Counterpoint Press
As my blog title indicates, these poems are not only for children. In fact, I have no idea that Berry intended them for children per se. According to the book jacket, it was artist Tom Pohrt who set about collecting pieces by Berry that he deemed especially accessible to children and creating initial sketches to accompany them. In time, he and Berry collaborated in order to deepen Pohrt’s knowledge of the flora and fauna for his watercolor illustrations.
All that to say — this is a volume for all ages. The briefest poems in the book are only a couple of lines long, while others extend quite beyond that. Some of these gems will spark an interest in even very young children — a reflection on a rabbit caught in the rain; a musing about the first person ever to whistle.
The poem which gives its name to the collection, The Terrapin, is a delightful piece for children with its commentary on a fellow who is always at home and who “pokes along” with “no map and no suitcase” because he can never really get lost! No matter where he wanders, he is “always home.”
Other pieces incorporate expressions and crafting that obviously require more heft than a 2-year-old can muster. Some will be best appreciated by middle-graders and older, making it a nice volume to grow into.
Berry’s habits of observing and keenly appreciating the natural world mark these poems. They are written by one who listens intently and snuffs in the odor of forests and feels the companionship of unelectrified, velvet nights. There’s a down-to-earth sense about them, a muck-on-the-boots, frost-nipped-face feel, rather than anything artificially romantic.
A snake swells with the body of a mouse. Trees are planted in the hopes they “may live when I/ no longer rise in the mornings/ to be pleased by the green of them/ shining…” A calf is birthed, and a squirrel met whose ragged tail testifies to a time when “he should have hurried more than he did.” Glimpses and gazings at the real, natural world.
We have Tom Pohrt to thank for this collection, and what is more, for his elegant, captivating watercolor paintings that fill each page with such grace and beauty. It is a felicitous partnership.
Everything about this book works together to slow us down and draw our minds and aesthetic tastebuds to the detail and expanse, stillness and music, temporal and eternal, ever on display in Nature.