June 18th, 2006

ozarque figure

Book review; Collected Poems of Wendell Berry...

Collected Poems 1957-1982, by Wendell Berry

The fact that although this world contains the words of George W. Bush it also contains the words of Wendell Berry is a comfort to me; I'm grateful. And I'm also grateful for this book of Berry's poems, that I read for at least a few minutes almost every day. I know that some part of my attachment to these poems is because Berry and I share so similar an environment. Like him, when I look out my window I see big sycamore trees, and tall cedars, and limestone cliffs, and woods; like him, I can walk across the field by my house and be on the bank of a river. (Mine is thirty feet down, but it's a very real river.) Like him, I love to grow things and watch them grow; when we came here and built our house it was in the middle of a big bare pasture, and now I can look out my window and in all directions there are beautiful big trees -- some of them sycamores -- that I grew myself from a seed. The stone path that meanders down to my rock garden is a path I built myself by going to my woods every day for months and bringing back one big stone, which is all I was strong enough to carry, until that path was finished; that's a very Wendell Berry sort of thing, except that he would have been strong enough to do it faster. Like him, I live always vividly aware of my forebears and my offspring and my extended household; like him, my land holds the graves of beloved members of my family, ready for visiting. But that shared environment to write about isn't the only reason I love his poems.

I love them for lines that define things in a way that I would never have thought of without Berry's guidance, and that describe those things unforgettably for me forever in just a few unerringly-chosen words.

For example, in "Elegy":

"Branches of trees
Knit vision and wind."

And in "The Peace of Wild Things":

"... I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light."

And in "Window Poems":

"Peace to the bones,
that walk in the sun toward death..."

And in "Prayers and Sayings of the Mad Farmer":

"At night make me one with the darkness.
In the morning make me one with the light."

And in "Traveling at Home":

"To get back before dark
is the art of going."

This is a book that you can never wear out or use up, and I recommend it heartily.

Collected Poems 1957-82, by Wendell Berry; NY: North Point Press/Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1984 and 1995. ISBN 0-865-47197-5.