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American Life in Poetry

If we haven’t done it ourselves, we’ve known people who have, it seems: taken a vacation mostly to photograph a vacation, not really looking at what’s there, but seeing everything through the viewfinder with the idea of looking at it when they get home. Wendell Berry of Kentucky, one of our most distinguished poets, captures this perfectly.

The Vacation

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.

Poem copyright 2012 by Wendell Berry from “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint, 2012), and reprinted by permission of the author and publisher. American Life in Poetry is supported by The Poetry Foundation and the English department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.


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