Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sunday Sabbath Poetry: Wendell Berry

I usually mean to wait at least 2-3 months between posting Wendell Berry poems, if only to ensure a lack of repetitiveness or wont of imagination. But just last week, as late birthday gifts I received in the mail Berry's two most recent collections of poems, Given and Leavings, and that night, having spent a day hosting friends in town, I read through the bulk of both, and found myself arrested and sacked and enveloped all over again by Berry's profound and life-giving words. I can't help myself in sharing a few of my favorites from each collection, especially as it seems like Berry is dealing a bit more directly than usual with explicit theological issues.

My own poem afterward is one I wrote in the margins of one of the books that very night of reading through them. As I have mentioned many times in the past, I am most inspired to write poetry when I read good poetry -- and this was, as you will see below, a night of reading good poetry.

- - - - - - -

A Small Theology

By Wendell Berry

"With God all things are possible"—
that's the beginning and the end
of theology. If all things are possible,
nothing is impossible.
Why do the godly then
keep slinging out their nooses?

- - - - - - -

Before We Kill Another Child

By Wendell Berry

Before we kill another child
for righteousness' sake, to serve
some blissful killer's sacred cause,
some bloody patriot's anthem
and his flag, let us leave forever
our ancestral lands, our holy books,
our god thoughtified to the mean
of our smallest selves. Let us go
to the graveyard and lie down
forever among the speechless stones.

- - - - - - -

Having Written Some Pages in Favor of Jesus

By Wendell Berry

Having written some pages in favor of Jesus,
I receive a solemn communication crediting me
with the possession of a "theology" by which
I acquire the strange dignity of being wrong
forever or forever right. Have I gauged exactly
enough the weights of sins? Have I found
too much of the Hereafter in the Here? Or
the other way around? Have I found too much
pleasure, too much beauty and goodness, in this
our unreturning world? O Lord, please forgive
any smidgen of such distinctions I may
have still in my mind. I meant to leave them
all behind a long time ago. If I'm a theologian
I am one to the extent I have learned to duck
when the small, haughty doctrines fly overhead,
dropping their loads of whitewash at random
on the faces of those who look toward Heaven.
Look down, look down, and save your soul
by honester dirt, that receives with a lordly
indifference this off-fall of the air. Christmas
night and Easter morning are this soil's only laws.
The depth and volume of the waters of baptism,
the true taxonomy of sins, the field marks
of those most surely saved, God's own only true
interpretation of the Scripture: these would be
causes of eternal amusement, could we forget
how we have hated one another, how vilified
and hurt and killed one another, bloodying
the world, by means of such questions, wrongly
asked, never to be rightly answered, but asked and
wrongly answered, hour after hour, day after day,
year after year — such is my belief — in Hell.

- - - - - - -

On a Saturday Night

A man is reading in a bed
and in the room next door
a husband and wife,
asleep in cooling darkness,
strangers only that morning,
lie in careful hands, gentle,
mirroring the happiness
of the woman's breath beside
the man reading, asking by
her patient back-turned hair,
Why aren't you here with me?


  1. thanks so much for posting these! I didn't know there were new poems out. The three you picked are wonderful - I especially like the word "thoughtified."

    ps I finally put your blog on my Google reader so I can keep up now!

  2. i recognize this is not a current post - but wanted to thank you for publishing it! i am an avid reader of berry and appreciated finding your blog.

    thanks again.

    many blessings on you and yours...