Here are short extracts from some of the major poems of Wendell Berry, 84, the much-loved American poet, farmer, critic and activist.
I placed a pencil point on lines that I found exquisite in THIS DAY, Collected and New Sabbath Poems written between 1979 and 2013. The quotes consist of very short extracts from numerous poems in the book.
The book contains more than 300 poems, Many of these poems came to Wendell Berry during his weekly Sunday morning walks in the countryside in and around his farm.
This remarkable poet, Wendell Berry stands tall as a poet, farmer, critic and activist. He lives with his wife on his farm in Henry County, Kentucky, USA, since 1965. He has written eight novels and more than 50 short stories as well as numerous books of poetry.
Wendell has consistently spoken up against the violent policies of the US government. He delivered statements on the American war on the people of Vietnam, engaged in demonstrations against nuclear power, criticised the wars in the Arab world after 9/11, protested at coal-fired power plants, spoke at rallies against the destruction of local communities, the industrial agricultural system, fossil fuel dependency, soil loss and the ongoing damage to the ecosystem of the Earth.
He is much loved for his words and actions.
Many of us regard him as an adopted patron saint for those dedicated to a spiritual way of life.
I find it helpful to read some lines in poetry a number of times.
If any lines you read touch a depth in your being,
then read those lines again, and again.
Read them out loud.
Commit those lines to memory.
Live those lines.
A Selection of Short Extracts from THIS DAY, Collected and New Sabbath Poems
He goes among trees,
climbing again the one hill of his life.
With his hand full of words he goes
into the wordless, wording it barely
In time as he passes.
I go among trees and sit still.
all my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
Where I left them, asleep like cattle.
The mind that comes to rest is tended
In some ways that it cannot intend
Is born, preserved, and comprehended
By what it cannot comprehend.
Our only choice should be to die
Into that rest, or out of it.
I go in pilgrimage
Across an old fenced boundary
To wildness without age
Where, in their long dominion,
the trees have been left free.
Enclosing the field within bounds
Sets it apart from the boundless
of which it was, and is, a part,
And places it within care.
As the known life is given up, birdcall
Become the only language of the way,
the leaves all shine with sudden light, and stay.
We are free. The mind too
Making its little flight
Out from the shadow into the clear
In time between work and sleep.
with her breast; the air
Is bright with breath
of bloom, wise loveliness that asks
nothing of the season but to be.
The world is made at rest
In ease of gravity
I hear the ancient theme
In low world-shaping song.
A little while in flow.
Stem and leaf grow from it
At cost of death it has
A life. Thus falling founds
Unmaking makes the world.
Into this columned room, and he,
Only in silence, nothing in hand,
Comes here. A generosity
Is here by which the fallen stand.
Love where we cannot trust
Trust where we cannot know
And must await the wayward-coming grace
That joins living and dead
How long does it take to make the woods?
As long as it takes to make the world.
But, a man
is small before those who have stood so long solo (referring to trees)
He stands under them, looks up, sees, knows,
and knows that he does not know.
For us, the privilege
is only to see, within the long shade,
the present standing of what has come and is
to come: the straight trunks aspiring
between earth and sky, bearing upon all years
So they may look and see
For past and future’s sake
The terms of victory
They cannot win or take
Except by charity
Towards what they cannot make.
In front of us; and we are here
As we have never seen before,
Sighted as not before, our place
Holy, although we knew it not.
To have lost wantonly,
the ancient forests, the vast grasslands
is our madness, the presence
in our very bodies of our grief
Where human striving ceased
The Sabbath of the trees
Returns and stands and is.
The leaves shake in the wind.
The long age of the passing world, in which
I once was not, now am, and will not be,
And in that time, beneath the changing true,
I rest in a keeping not my own.
The body in the invisible
Familiar room accepts the gift
Of sleep, and for a while is still;
Instead of will, it lives by drift.
Sleep is the prayer the body prays,
Breathing in unthought faith the Breath
That through our worry-wearied days
Preserves our rest, and is our truth.
This is a nation where
No lovely thing can last
We trample, gauge and blast;
And liberty to be
A peaceful murderer
A murderous worshipper
A slender glutton,
No enemy, forgiven
By none, we live the death
Of liberty, become
What we have feared to be.
In this time
I could stay forever. In my wish
To stay forever, it stays forever.
But I must go. Mortal and obliged
But don’t neglect your garden,
Makes family and land
An Independent state.
Must wait to sing, and sing
Longer than you can wait.
Soon you must go. The trees,
Your seniors, standing thus
Acknowledged in your eyes,
Stand as your praise and prayer
Your rest is in this praise
Of what you cannot be
And what you cannot do.
Loving you has taught me the infinite
longing of the self to be given away
But I rise up alive
When you come near
Our places of flowers where
Alone I live.
I have again come home
Through miles of sky
From hours of abstract talk
In the way of modern times
When humans live in their minds
and the world, forgotten, dies
It is an old road that we
have followed, too narrow
to be traveled by more than two.
Every day you have less reason
not to give yourself away
The young man leaps and lands
on an old man’s legs.
We live the given life and not the planned.
I have been wakeful at night
and words have come to me
out of their deep caves,
needing to be remembered.
Thought is also human,
When a made of peace is killed
by a man of war, he gives a light
In morning light, men in dark clothes
Go out among the beasts and the fields
Lest the community be lost
You’re safe among the dead,
Alive, your death undone,
“Come and dine,” Christ said
Consenting, you have gone.
Best of any song
Is bird song
In the quiet, but first
you must have the quiet.
This is a day
when the road neither
comes not goes, and the way
is not a way but a place.
those who learned
to love one another
have made their way
Into the lasting world
and will not leave
The gift is balanced by
Its total loss, and yet,
And yet, the light breaks in,
Heaven seizing its moments.
I dream of a quiet man
who explained nothing and defends
nothing, but only knows
are blooming and who goes
and finds that he is smiling
not by his own will.
that rigid measure which predicts
only humankind’s demise.
The incarnate Word is with us,
Is still speakng, is present
always, yet leaves no sign
but everything that is.
When we convene the world again
To understand the world
The first speaker wil again
point silently out of the window
One of the thresholds
between Earth and Heaven
from which even I may step
forth from myself and be free
I stand and wait for light
To open the dark night
I stand and wait for prayer
To come and find me here.
Ask the world to reveal its quietude
Not the silence of machines when they are still
human confusion of greed
And creed, blood and fire.
war, the killed peace
Of the original world.
to the space between ourselves,
The narrow doorway, and pass through
Into the land of the wholly loved
Is this the river of life
or death? Both? Both. The force
that brought us here remains
to carry us away.
To one who has watched here for many years
all this is familiar. And yet
none it has ever happened
before as it is happening now.
I sit without working and look out
An old man, into the young light.
Their greed is the hatred of mercy
Their pockets jingle with the small change of the poor
Their power is the willingness to destroy
everything for knowledge which is money
which is ashes sown by the win.
If national conduct
Forsakes these aims, it is one’s patriotic duty
To say so and oppose. What else have we to live for?
The moment of transformation
The presence of creation
Itself is beyond your reach.
Help me, please, to carry
This candle against the wind
If we have no compassion,
we will suffer alone, we will suffer
alone the destruction of ourselves.
These are merely the laws of this world
as known to Shakespeare and Milton.
I know that Heaven’s
bottom rung is Heaven
though the ladder is standing
on the earth where I work.
The times are disgusting enough
surely, for those who long for peace
and truth. But self-disgust
also is an injury
Before we kill another child
for righteousness’ sake, to serve
some blissful killer’s sacred cause
some bloody patriot’s anthem
And his flag
The CEO’s that they too
may wake to a day without hope
that in their smallness they
may know the greatness of Earth
From silence, the silence remains
Between us by now, what
is more telling than the silence
in which once more an old
rosebud simply blossoms?
Ours has been a brutal
history, punishing without
Regret whatever or whomever
within no boundary
nameable in human thought,
they had gathered once again,
the shepherd, his sheep and his dog.
To this dark blaze
driving the inert metal
of our most high desire
we offer our land as fuel,
thus offering ourselves at last
to be burned.
Made no doubt by force,
the world is saved by tenderness.
I wait to be changed
by work, by rest, by what
I know into what I know not.
Lest in our grief we lose our way,
The dead lead back to light of day
Not their absence from us we mourn
But ours from them, and this we learn.
Let us not condemn the human beings
self-appointed to serve machines,
poor humans, so weak of mind,
In silence while the light
Performs its holy work
In colors on the white
Wall. After the dark
The machines of death draw
Breath from the sky. Give thanks to the quiet.
A man who loves the trees
walks among them on a dark day
from the solace he has taken always
from the company of his elders
is the dew that wets the grass
in the early morning dark.
it is god’s entirely. withdtraw
your fatal homage and live.
“Attend to the little ones”
said William Blake, and long
before Blake spoke or wrote
shepherds obeyed him, watching
over the birth of lambs
So much given, so few who know
Once there was nothing
not even darkness,
not even silence,
not even nothing
Think of that.
Welcome the refugees set free
from the “nowhere” of rural America
from the “drudgery of the household
and the “mind-numbing” work of shops and households
into the anthills of “liberation”
the endless vistas of “growth.”
On a bright day, having slept
a long nap in the woods,
he woke out of sleep’s darkness
to find the sky comes low
to the tops of the tallest trees.
After the long weeks
when the heat curled the leaves
and the air thirsted, comes
a morning after rain, cool
and bright. the leaves uncurl
the pastures begin again
to grow, the animals and the birds
rejoice. if tonight the world
ends, we’ll have had this day.
Sit and be quiet. In a while
the red berries, now in shadow,
will be picked out by the sun.
He sets out.
Collected and New Sabbath Poems
1979 – 2013
Counterpoint Publishers, Berkeley, USA
- 404 pages
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PS. Thank you to Jaya (Ashmore) for the birthday present of the book