Monday, December 5, 2022

Wendell Berry*

Wendell Berry is a Kentucky poet referred to by America magazine as “the cranky farmer, poet and essayist you just can’t ignore.” He has published more than fifty books of poetry, fiction, essays, and criticism, and has identified himself as an agrarian, a pacifist, and a Christian.

The Poetry Foundation summarizes Berry’s environmental message as: “humans must learn to live in harmony with the natural rhythms of the earth or perish… Berry strongly believes that small-scale farming is essential to healthy local economies, and that strong local economies are essential to the survival of the species and the wellbeing of the planet.”

Berry was first known as a poet before his novels and environmentalism became well known ― his essays particularly bringing him wide recognition. He taught English at New York University and later at University of Kentucky before retiring in 1977 to dedicate more time to his farm.

The following is one of his many Sabbath poems ― poems inspired by his meditative Sunday morning walks.

Remembering That It Happened Once

Remembering that it happened once,
We cannot turn away the thought,
As we go out, cold, to our barns
Toward the long night’s end, that we
Ourselves are living in the world
It happened in when it first happened,
That we ourselves, opening a stall
(A latch thrown open countless times
Before), might find them breathing there,
Foreknown: the Child bedded in straw,
The mother kneeling over Him,
The husband standing in belief
He scarcely can believe, in light
That lights them from no source we see,
An April morning’s light, the air
Around them joyful as a choir.
We stand with one hand on the door,
Looking into another world
That is this world, the pale daylight
Coming just as before, our chores
To do, the cattle all awake,
Our own frozen breath hanging
In front of us; and we are here
As we have never been before,
Sighted as not before, our place
Holy, although we knew it not.

*This is the third Kingdom Poets post about Wendell Berry: first post, second post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Wipf & Stock.