Wendell Berry: Sabbath Poem VI, 2001


Paul Cézanne: Mont Sainte-Victoire (c. 1887)

The question before me, now that I
am old, is not how to be dead, 
which I know from enough practice,
but how to be alive, as these worn
hills still tell, and some paintings 
of Paul Cézanne, and this mere
singing wren, who thinks he’s alive
forever, this instant, and may be.

          –Wendell Berry



Wendell Berry: Sabbath Poem V, 1988


Always in the distance
the sound of cars is passing
on the road, that simplest form 
going only two ways, 
both ways away. And I 
have been there in that going.

But now I rest and am
apart, a part of the form
of the woods always arriving
from all directions home,
this cell of wild sound,
the hush of the trees, singers
hidden among the leaves–

a form whose history is old,
needful, unknown, and bright
as the history of the starts
that tremble in the sky at night
like leaves of a great tree.

       –Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry: We Need Something New

230ea-wendellberrybyguymendesThe aim and result of war necessarily is not peace but victory, and any victory won by violence necessarily justifies the violence that won it and leads to further violence. If we are serious about innovation, must we not conclude that we need something new to replace our perpetual “war to end war”?

–Wendell Berry, from “Thoughts in the Presence of Fear”

Wendell Berry: The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer

The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer

I am done with apologies. If contrariness is my
inheritance and destiny, so be it. If it is my mission
to go in at exits and come out at entrances, so be it.
I have planted by the stars in defiance of the experts,
and tilled somewhat by incantation and by singing,
and reaped, as I knew, by luck and Heaven’s favor,
in spite of the best advice. If I have been caught
so often laughing at funerals, that was because
I knew the dead were already slipping away,
preparing a comeback, and can I help it?
And if at weddings I have gritted and gnashed
my teeth, it was because I knew where the bridegroom
had sunk his manhood, and knew it would not
be resurrected by a piece of cake. ‘Dance,’ they told me,
and I stood still, and while they stood
quiet in line at the gate of the Kingdom, I danced.
‘Pray,’ they said, and I laughed, covering myself
in the earth’s brightnesses, and then stole off gray
into the midst of a revel, and prayed like an orphan.
When they said, ‘I know my Redeemer liveth,’
I told them, ‘He’s dead.’ And when they told me
‘God is dead,’ I answered, ‘He goes fishing ever day
in the Kentucky River. I see Him often.’
When they asked me would I like to contribute
I said no, and when they had collected
more than they needed, I gave them as much as I had.
When they asked me to join them I wouldn’t,
and then went off by myself and did more
than they would have asked. ‘Well, then,’ they said
‘go and organize the International Brotherhood
of Contraries,’ and I said, ‘Did you finish killing
everybody who was against peace?’ So be it.
Going against men, I have heard at times a deep harmony
thrumming in the mixture, and when they ask me what
I say I don’t know. It is not the only or the easiest
way to come to the truth. It is one way.

                                          –Wendell Berry


Sometime today a discussion between Bill Moyers and Wendell Berry is supposed to be posted on Mr. Moyers’ site. I am impatiently waiting. Here is a clip of the show, wherein Mr. Berry reads the above poem.

Openings: A Glosa in Honor of Wendell Berry

This is a glosa, a poetry form that Sam Peralta has challenged us to write for dVerse Form For All night. He explains it well–essentially, it’s 4 stanzas, 10 lines each, the 6th, 9th, and 10th lines rhyming. And, most important, each last stanza line is taken from a cabeza, a 4-line heading that is borrowed from a favorite poet one wishes to honor. I’m pretty late getting this out, since I wasn’t sure I would have time today to read and comment. It could have turned out better (I was rushing! something I am opposed to in this poem!!), but it is something I can work with later on. 

I walk in openings
That when I’m dead will close.
Where the field sparrow sings
Will come the sweet wild rose.
            (Wendell Berry, Sabbath Poems, 1990, IV)
When I was younger
I liked to force my way
Through the woods. The most
Tangled path made me
Feel brave, lording my
Superior wits against Nature, cutting
My way through wildness.
Imagine my surprise, now
That I’m finding
I walk in openings,
Slowly, taking only those steps
Freely offered by the way.
It’s a different kind
Of bravery—non-combative,
Even doubtful. In openings
I am exposed,
Seeing and being seen
By things that live on
The shadow-boundary that’s imposed,
That when I’m dead will close.
And there is a
Hushed joy even in that
Which makes life
A hymn to limitation,
A song of surrender, like
The murmur of wave-rings
Circling out from a thrown stone.
The light rain has begun
To fall in the opening
Where the field sparrow sings
Her single trilled note
To the graying sky.
I am still. A single
Step would feel
Like blasphemy, like breaking
Faith with those
Whose lives are entwined
With mine, soon not to be.
Yet, after we all die and decompose

Will come the sweet wild rose.