Wendell Berry, “Be Still in Haste”

Be Still in Haste (from Poetry)
Wendell Berry

How quietly I
begin again

from this moment
looking at the
clock, I start over

so much time has
passed, and is equaled
by whatever
split-second is present

from this
moment this moment
is the first


Why do we want clean slates? Why do we “begin again?” It’s worth thinking about the title’s imperative, “be still in haste.” We want clean slates not because of a desire for stillness, but because we want something and want to feel like we can get it. Maybe we’re told to be still, or more likely, are telling ourselves to be still for a moment.

It does not feel like the speaker is particularly ambitious, though (“How quietly I begin again”). Nor is there an acute sense of tragedy. He seems to be letting out a sigh, like one resigned to think he hasn’t achieved what he needs. At stake: not so much ambition, but fulfillment and happiness.

Twice he tries to resolve himself to starting over. When “from this moment” is one whole line, he stares at the clock and realizes that he is weighting the moment of starting over with the whole of his life. He says all that time – all his time – is equivalent to that split-second he wants to begin again. This prompts a bit of hesitation, a reevaluation of what it means to start anew. In the last stanza, “from this / moment” is broken apart; “this,” the speaker implicitly realizing something important to him, matters more than the moment. He chooses to start over, to create a new first. Moments matter less than making something of them.

The absurdity of saying “this moment is where I began” when one has to spend another moment recognizing that beginning is apparent as well as resolved. In saying from this moment, this moment is the first, he’s not throwing away his past. It matters, it is what brought him here. The funny thing is realizing those moments of change have an everyday character, as if nothing actually changed.

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