WB as 'imagined guest'
WB to appear on KQED tomorrow

The Real Work: An Internet Adventure

This morning I decided to jump on the trail of an answer to a question posed by a correspondent.

I have found the poem (below) The Real Work, but do not know what book it is from. Does anyone out there know what book The Real Work is in?

Now, I had vaguely noticed that such a thing has been floating around the internet ... even heavily tweeted of late ... but hadn't thought to look into it. The piece as given in the inquiry goes

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.

You've seen it?  First I searched "Real Work Wendell Berry" and came up with "about 70,600" results on Google.

So, I turned to Poetry: Titles on this very site, thinking that it must be there. No luck. Then I tried Poetry: First Lines—but Nada. Time to hit the actual poetry books, manually scanning for first words, last words, page after page after page—and No Go. By this point I began to think that we weren't dealing with poetry at all, but a piece of lineated prose.

Back to Google, I searched what seemed the most quotable line, " The impeded stream is the one that sings" and came up with "about 11,000" results. Now we're making some progress, I thought. So I began randomly clicking among these. Most just repeated what they had found (and been inspired by) elsewhere; one identified painter Joseph Albers as the source. But then I stumbled onto a fuller quotation that confirmed a prose source:

There are, it seems, two muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say "It is yet more difficult than you thought." This is the muse of form. It may be then that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction, to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.

Thank you! but, alas, no source was cited ... and this sent me back to the books.

Now, by this time, the quotation was beginning to ring some bells. That reference to muses pointed me toward WB's Standing by Words. And there, on page 205 of a tough little gem of an essay, "Poetry and Marriage," sat the words ... to my chagrin ... because I had actually used this essay and discussed it in detail with my last group of AP Literature students about a year and a half ago.

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