Sunday, October 02, 2005

Clearing by Wendell Berry

Clearing by Wendell Berry is a collection of poems, all between four and fourteen pages in length, that deal with stewardship of the earth in general and more specifically with the caring for a farm. Berry has been a farmer, poet, and novelist since the 1960s, and is revered by environmentalists. This book is one of his best.

Berry selected a very appropriate quote to highlight in the introductory pages:

What has been spoiled through man’s fault can be made good again through man’s work.
I Ching

Like Walt Whitman in Leaves of Grass, Berry says that history and the future are present in the present moment. Berry refers specifically to the spring, when life arises out of the frozen ground; without the springs of the past there would be no present life, which is preparing for future life. The poet refers to his farm labor also, which follows the work of the sod busting farmers and which he will pass on to future generations. In his poem “History” he says:

All the lives this place
has had, I have. I eat
my history day by day.

In the title poem “Clearing” he takes up the theme of restoration, a healing of the land after the bad practices of many poor farmers:

Vision reaches the ground
under the sumac and thorn
under the honeysuckle,
and begins its rise.
It sees clear pasture,
clover and grass, on the worn
hillside going back
to woods, good cropland
in the bottom gone to weeds.

Healing work is a calling, according to Berry, and no person can be truly happy who does not work for good. Work is to be enjoyed. It is to be a song and should bring people together.

We will write them a poem
to tell them of the great
fellowship, the mystic order,
to which both of us belong.

It would truly be a good earth if every person, urban and rural, loved their work and made of it a song in the manner of Wendell Berry. This older collection of poems should be retained and read.

Berry, Wendell. Clearing. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977. ISBN 0151181500

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