In honor of Earth Day, I’m sharing a poem by the amazing writer and environmentalist Wendell Berry (1934-) that many of you are probably familiar with but can never be read too much. And if you’re jonesin’ for some more Earth Day verse, here are the Walt Whitman poems I usually post.
“The Peace of Wild Things”
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
I had the pleasure of seeing the incredible writer, farmer, and environmental activist Wendell Berry (1934-) last night, speaking on everything from land use to the necessary distinction between optimism and hope. At the beginning of the evening, he read this manifesto of a poem, and the images have been rolling around in my mind ever since:
Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Thank you for joining me for another National Poetry Month. I hope you’ve enjoyed the last four weeks of verse–and I hope even more that you continue to seek out poetry all year long. For now, I will close with this selection from the magnificent writer, activist, and farmer Wendell Berry (1934-).
from Sabbaths 1998
those who have learned
to love one another
have made their way
to the lasting world
and will not leave,
This is the time you’d like to stay.
Not a leaf stirs. There is no sound.
The fireflies lift light from the ground.
You’ve shed the vanities of when
And how and why, for now. And then
The phone rings. You are called away.
Early in the morning, walking
in a garden in Vancouver
three thousand miles from your grave,
the sky dripping, song
sparrows singing in the borders,
I come suddenly upon
a Japanese dogwood, a tree
you loved, bowed down with bloom.
By what blessedness do I weep?
The woods and pastures are joyous
in their abundance now
in a season of warmth and much rain.
We walk amidst foliage, amidst
song. The sheep and cattle graze
like souls and bliss (except for flies)
and lie down satisfied. Who now
can believe in winter? In winter
who could have hoped for this?