Poetry Sundays: Wendell Berry

Hawaii The Real Work

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

-Wendell Berry

I love this poem because of its applicability to many facets of my life as I think of the different kinds of work I engage in.

I am comforted by these words when I feel like I’ve hit a patch of stagnation with my spiritual development. When I’m not sure where I should focus my energies, it helps me to imaging that I’m about to embark on a new, fulfilling and creative path and that sometimes, it’s ok to not know where that path may lead.

Lately, though, this poem speaks to me as I’ve reached a crossroads as a mother. I have had the luxury to be able to choose to stay home with my children. I felt it was important to be at home while they were small, but now that they are a little older, I have felt that it is perhaps better for me and my family if I found employment outside our home. I believe that stay-at-home parenting is real work, engaging, beautiful (at times), and important for those who have the freedom to choose it. But, in the past couple years, I realized that my impeded stream has become more of a stagnant pool.

In searching for new kinds of real work, I understand Berry’s statement, “The mind that is not baffled is not employed.” I feel that in so many areas of my life as I juggle these new roles, and I hope that this search will help my stream to once again sing.

What real work have you found or are searching for?

EmilyCC lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She currently serves as a stake Just Serve specialists, and she recently returned to school to become a nurse. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.


  1. I really love this poem.

    I have ideas about real work I’d like to do, but circumstances prevent it and that’s pretty frustrating. But maybe those impediments are supposed to make my stream sing in another way. I’d never thought of that before, but maybe something good could come of thinking of it that way.

  2. Love this poem, Emily. How it resonates. I can totally see myself pulling this out if I have to give a talk or teach a lesson in the future.

    I am in constant angst about what my real work is. Will my real work carry me into the professional world? Will it be full time? How do I balance that with my small kids? Is my real work outside of a professional track? In which case, how do I protect and prepare myself and my family if circumstances ever necessitate me being a full time breadwinner? This question of real work is a tough one, but very good for me to be contemplating.

  3. After waiting about a decade for Real Life to start, I realised I have to actually, you know, make some decisions. It’s not going to happen to me, it’s something I create.

    I started a teaching degree because when I’m in a classroom, I know that’s my calling in life, but university was so not what I expected, and I burnt out because I didn’t find any fulfilling relationships, and the hypocrisy in the system frustrated me beyond words.

    I need to find a way to get all this water from the top of the hill to the ocean I see at the end. My worry is that, though my path right now is beautiful, it’s not leading to that ocean. I don’t know if I’m distracted, or if this is part of where my path needs to go.

  4. Wow. I love this. Empty-nesting brings this on for some of us. I’m sort of here – baffled – even now. Thanks for choosing and sharing this poem.

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