Poem of the Week

To My Mother

By Wendell Berry

I was your rebellious son,
do you remember? Sometimes
I wonder if you do remember,
so complete has your forgiveness been.

So complete has your forgiveness been
I wonder sometimes if it did not
precede my wrong, and I erred,
safe found, within your love,

prepared ahead of me, the way home,
or my bed at night, so that almost
I should forgive you, who perhaps
foresaw the worst that I might do,

and forgave before I could act,
causing me to smile now, looking back,
to see how paltry was my worst,
compared to your forgiveness of it

already given. And this, then,
is the vision of that Heaven of which
we have heard, where those who love
each other have forgiven each other,

where, for that, the leaves are green,
the light a music in the air,
and all is unentangled,
and all is undismayed.

Poem of the Week

A Purification

by Wendell Berry

At the start of spring I open a trench
in the ground. I put into it
the winter’s accumulation of paper,
pages I do not want to read
again, useless words, fragments,
errors. And I put in it
the contents of the outhouse
light of the sun, growth of the ground,
finished with one of their journeys.
To the sky, to the wind, then,
and to the faithful trees, I confess
my sins: that I have not been happy
enough, considering my good luck,
have listened to too much noise,
have been inattentive to wonders,
have lusted after praise.
And then upon the gathered refuse
of mind and body, I close the trench,
folding shut again the dark,
the deathless earth. Beneath that seal
the old escapes the new.

Poem of the Week

Look It Over

by Wendell Berry

I leave behind even
my walking stick. My knife
is in my pocket, but that
I have forgot. I bring
no car, no cell phone,
no computer, no camera,
no CD player, no fax, no
TV, not even a book. I go
into the woods. I sit on
a log provided at no cost.
It is the earth I’ve come to,
the earth itself, sadly
abused by the stupidity
only humans are capable of
but, as ever, itself. Free.
A bargain! Get it while it lasts.

Poem of the Week

The Vacation

by Wendell Berry

Once there was a man who filmed his vacation.
He went flying down the river in his boat
with his video camera to his eye, making
a moving picture of the moving river
upon which his sleek boat moved swiftly
toward the end of his vacation. He showed
his vacation to his camera, which pictured it,
preserving it forever: the river, the trees,
the sky, the light, the bow of his rushing boat
behind which he stood with his camera
preserving his vacation even as he was having it
so that after he had had it he would still
have it. It would be there. With a flick
of a switch, there it would be. But he
would not be in it. He would never be in it.

Poem of the Week

How To Be a Poet


(to remind myself)

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.
Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.
Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

Happy Birthday, Wendell!

From the Writer’s Almanac:

It’s the 80th birthday of writer Wendell Berry (books by this author), born near Port Royal, Kentucky (1934). He came from a long line of tobacco farmers who had farmed in the same place in rural Kentucky for generations . His father was a farmer and a lawyer, and his brother also went into law, but Berry said: “My father and my brother have very quick minds. I have a fairly slow one. I don’t think I could have stood the pressure of a courtroom practice.” Instead he went to the University of Kentucky and received a Wallace Stegner Fellowship to study creative writing at Stanford, where he was mentored by Stegner himself. Berry planned to move around teaching at various universities. He said of Port Royal: “My education had implied, over and again, that you couldn’t amount to anything in a place like this. I grieved over that. I liked the work of the farms. I liked this country, this place. But, at Stanford, I thought I was at the commencement of some kind of an academic vagabondage that would carry me I didn’t know where.” He won a Guggenheim Fellowship and lived in Italy, then taught at New York University.
Then he got a job offer to teach at the University of Kentucky — and although Berry never knew for sure, he thought the offer had been arranged by Wallace Stegner. Berry and his wife decided to move back to Kentucky, even though all his literary friends thought he was ruining his career by leaving New York City. He bought a farm in the Kentucky River Valley, near where he grew up. It had limestone soils, and sloped fields held in place by oaks, ash, hickory, and sycamore. He and his wife raised sheep, hay, and small grains. He said: “Port Royal is what a lot of people have been schooled to call ‘nowhere.’ […] It’s extremely important, it seems to me, that those nowhere places should be inhabited by people who will speak for them.”
He began writing about Kentucky in poems, essays, stories, and novels. His first novel, Nathan Coulter (1960), was set in Port William, a fictional version of Port Royal. Over the years, he continued to write about Port William, using the same characters, re-creating the voices of the people around him. He said: “I always loved to listen to the old people, and I heard a lot of talk. At least until the 1980s, I was working in the fields a lot with people whose language had not been the least bit touched by the media. They spoke a beautiful language, direct and strongly referential, as far as possible from ‘pure poetry.’ I grew up around people who would entertain themselves by talking. There’d be a crew at work and something remarkable would happen, and they would start telling about it as soon as it was over. Three or four would each tell a different version of it, and they’d be trying to get the language right.”
In 2011, Berry protested mountaintop removal by participating in a three-day sit-in in the Kentucky governor’s office. He was prepared to be arrested, but the governor didn’t want any pictures circulating of the famous writer in handcuffs. A couple of weeks later, Berry received the National Humanities Medal. Berry didn’t mention mountaintop removal to President Obama because he didn’t want to be rude, but he thought about the possibility of protesting in the future. He said, “I did examine the rugs in the White House to see how comfortable they’d be to sleep on.”
His books include The Unsettling of America (1977), Jayber Crow (2000), Hannah Coulter (2004), and The Mad Farmer Poems (2008).
He said: “I never felt like I had to write in order to be happy. It has given me great freedom as a writer.”
And: “I’ve known writers — I think it’s true also of other artists — who thought that you had to put your art before everything. But if you have a marriage and a family and a farm, you’re just going to find that you can’t always put your art first, and moreover that you shouldn’t. There are a number of things more important than your art. It’s wrong to favor it over your family, or over your place, or over your animals.”

Setting Limits on Technology: What do you think?

w berryIn my wanderings online last week I came across Wendell Berry‘s 1987 essay “Why I am Not Going to Buy a Computer.” Although I’ve never regretted buying or using my computers or iPad, I didn’t really use my Palm Pilot. Still Berry’s essay made me think. He raises some good points and I thought I’d share his criteria for acquiring technology:

To make myself as plain as I can, I should give my standards for technological innovation in my own work. They are as follows:

1. The new tool should be cheaper than the one it replaces.
2. It should be at least as small in scale as the one it replaces.
3. It should do work that is clearly and demonstrably better than the one it replaces.
4. It should use less energy than the one it replaces.
5. If possible, it should use some form of solar energy, such as that of the body.
6. It should be repairable by a person of ordinary intelligence, provided that he or she has the necessary tools.
7. It should be purchasable and repairable as near to home as possible.
8. It should come from a small, privately owned shop or store that will take it back for maintenance and repair.
9. It should not replace or disrupt anything good that already exists, and this includes family and community relationships.

Again, I still value my computer and have no plans to get rid of it. As a librarian, I realize I should meet people’s needs, not preach my own ideas, which are ever changing anyway. As a user, I do see great value in thinking about what I’m buying and using. What impact, positive and negative, will a device have?

So far I haven’t bought a smartphone. I don’t yet have the need and I see some ill effects. I’m the sort of person who would easily lose such a device as well as being inclined to getting mesmerized by one. Since I already have an iPad, I feel less of a need for an iPhone, and I’m such an Apple person that getting another systems seems unsatisfying. I realize that mining rare earth metals probably isn’t great for the environment and disposing of devices that only last a few years is problematic. As I posted on a comment yesterday, not everyone needs to own one to benefit from their proliferation. If I’m with a group at lunch and we want some information, there are plenty of smartphones at the table with users eager to “get there first.” I don’t like the idea of being on call 24/7. To me, it’s like being shackled. Unless I’m paid $100,000 a year, I want some down time.

If you read his essay, it’s alarming how incensed the comments became.  He certainly hit a nerve with people. They protest too much.


Berry, W. (1990). Wendell Berry explains why he is not going to buy a computer. Utne Reader (87500256), (38), 1. Available from http://home.btconnect.com/tipiglen/berrynot.html as well.

Poem of the Week


by Wendell Berry

It’s the immemorial feelings
I like the best: hunger, thirst,
their satisfaction; work-weariness,
earned rest; the falling again
from loneliness to love;
the green growth the mind takes
from the pastures in March;
The gayety in the stride
of a good team of Belgian mares
that seems to shudder from me
through all my ancestry.