Poetry Sundays


Here at The Exponent we are starting a new series one Sunday a month where we’ll share poetry.

Following the Christmas holidays, this poem by Wendell Berry came to my mind.  We have so many opportunities  to digitally capture our lives that sometimes it starts to feel like an obligation to get a picture or video of every event, big or small.  This poem reminds me that pictures can’t replace the experience of being really present in life’s events.  Sometimes it’s better to put down the phone and enjoy the moment.

The Vacation
By Wendell Berry

Once there was a man who filmed his vacation.
He went flying down the river in his boat
with his video camera to his eye, making
a moving picture of the moving river
upon which his sleek boat moved swiftly
toward the end of his vacation. He showed
his vacation to his camera, which pictured it,
preserving it forever: the river, the trees,
the sky, the light, the bow of his rushing boat
behind which he stood with his camera
preserving his vacation even as he was having it
so that after he had had it he would still
have it. It would be there. With a flick
of a switch, there it would be. But he
would not be in it. He would never be in it.

I’m sure there are other ways to read the poem.  What is yours?

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4 Responses

  1. EmilyCC says:

    I’m horrible at taking pictures and I think this poem captures why. I have lots of friends who can be present while taking pictures or videos–perhaps it helps some be more present. But, once I start trying to frame a picture, I’m no longer part of the moment. I’m too absorbed in capturing it…perfectly.

    Still, it’s a rather inconvenient mind-block when it comes to compiling baby books for my children.

  2. Caroline says:

    Thanks so much for putting this poem up, Emily U — I’ve never seen it before. I like the message, particularly since, like Emily CC, I have a hard time being present if I’m trying to get photos.

  3. Brooke says:

    Yay for poetry! Thanks for choosing this poem, Emily U. These sorts of things have been on my mind lately–documenting and archiving my life and the lives of my family members. I have been thinking a lot about how much documenting I do, whether it’s photos, video, or writing. I think there is a lot of balancing that needs to happen for me. Because I could easily fall into a frame of mind where I compulsively try to capture everything so I can keep it and have it and kind of hoard it (but not necessarily go back to it). And that’s overwhelming. But it’s more often the case that I just leave my camera at home. This poem reminds me that when I don’t take pictures and videos, it’s okay because (hopefully) that means I’m enjoying the moment in the moment.

  4. Melody says:

    Back in the day when John Bradshaw was opening people’s eyes to the profound impact of dysfunctional family dynamics, he described his life before he began his own healing process. He specifically talked about taking photos on vacations. It was his way of remaining disconnected from the present moment-which was a relic from his abusive childhood. He could “be there” in the event only later, while viewing the photos, but could not stay present while it was happening – even though these events were actually quite pleasant. It was a sort of depersonalization that had served to protect him during his childhood, but which as an adult, marred his ability to connect with those he loved.

    I read this poem on Poetry Foundation a few months back. I immediately recalled Bradshaw’s ideas. This may not apply to many people, but perhaps to a lesser degree, like the comments above, snapping photos or videos allows us to observe or document rather than “live” an event – which in some ways is easier than being present.

    I think about the mommy blogger community sometimes in this same way. Are we living? Or just documenting for someone else? Maybe both. But it’s worth thinking about. Thanks for choosing this poem. I’m really looking forward to these Poetry Sundays!

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