You know how sometimes you don’t think about something for forever, and then suddenly it crops up repeatedly. That has happened with me lately regarding the writer, Wendell Berry.
Berry is from Kentucky, my home state. He graduated from UK many years before I did, and returned there to teach a few years after I left. He farms and writes in north-central Kentucky, near the Ohio River.
He recently celebrated his 73rd birthday and was in the news – maybe the Writer’s Almanac. Then tonight I ran across one of his poems on a blog I read. This prompted me to look him up online where I discovered he’s friends with Wes Jackson at the Land Institute, about an hour from here. I interviewed Jackson a few times. I wish I could say the same about Berry.
It made me go in search of one of his poems I like. I’m ready for fall, which this poem reminds me of with the idea of harvest being over. I’m not a big poetry person – don’t know much about it at all – but what always gets to me is a turn of phrase that’s so powerful. In this one I love the ideas of “abandon as in love or sleep,” of “ancient faith” and that “what we need is here.”
The Wild Geese
Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer’s end. In time’s maze
over the fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed’s marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear,
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.
(from A Timbered Choir; the Sabbath Poems)
Berry is devoted to the idea that we must live in harmony with nature and we have to find a way to make peace.
In his work, “The Failure of War,” he wrote, “How many deaths of other people’s children are we willing to accept in order that we may be free, affluent and (supposedly) at peace? To that question I answer: None . . . Don’t kill any children for my benefit.”
He is included in the Americans Who Tell the Truth project.
Read an interview with him at Sojourners Magazine from July 2004.
Read an interview with him at New Southerner from early 2006.
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