Be In It

June 25, 2014

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. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]

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.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2012 by Wendell Berry, whose most recent book of poems is New Collected Poems,
Counterpoint, 2012. Poem reprinted from New Collected Poems, Counterpoint, 2012, and used with permission of Wendell Berry and the publisher. Introduction copyright 2012 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.

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  1. Don't we all fall a little guilty of this behavior from time to time? I know I have.

  2. On one trip I didn't bring my camera so I stopped to sit & gaze & sketch alot...I actually see & hear & reflect more when sketching, photos for me are quick glances...(but I admit, I like them...)

  3. Laure--Oh, yes. I certainly do. I want to be able to remember the vacation or event, and instead of fully participating, I'm there snapping photos!

  4. Rita--Wow, that's great that you could leave the camera at home and sketch instead. Good way to slow down and be in the moment.

  5. Dear Kathy - great post with such a thought provoking poem. Makes me think about how intent we can become in trying to capture something and not just enjoying it for the sheer pleasure. Hope you are having a good day.

  6. Thanks, Debbie. I agree that we all too often get involved in commemorating the moment rather than living it. I'm always trying to find the balance between the two.