American Life in Poetry: Column 778


This week’s poem is one of my favorites and I can’t explain why in the fifteen years I’ve been writing this column I’ve neglected until now to share it with you. Wendell Berry is one of our country’s finest writers, a poet, a fiction writer, an activist and a Kentucky farmer. This poem is from New Collected Poems from Counterpoint Press, 2012. Berry’s most recent book of poetry is A Small Porch.

Before Dark

From the porch at dusk I watched
a kingfisher wild in flight
he could only have made for joy.

He came down the river, splashing
against the water’s dimming face
like a skipped rock, passing

on down out of sight. And still
I could hear the splashes
farther and farther away

as it grew darker. He came back
the same way, dusky as his shadow,
sudden beyond the willows.

The splashes went on out of hearing.
It was dark then. Somewhere
the night had accommodated him

—at the place he was headed for
or where, led by his delight,
he came.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2012 by Wendell Berry, "Before Dark," from New Collected Poems, (Counterpoint Press, 2012). Poem reprinted by permission of Wendell Berry and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2020 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.