Joel Sumner Smith

Product Manager @Gatsby focused on developer experience.
Analogical thinker in an analytical world.

Letters

Two excerpts from Berry

After finishing The Country of Marriage after dinner, I’ve decided another excerpt is necessary for it demonstrates one of Berry’s most important ideas (I will save you the citation from Standing by Words.) This lengthy passage comes from the poem entitled “A Country Funeral”:

But our memory of ourselves, hard earned,
is one of the land’s seeds, as a seed
is the memory of the life of its kind in its place,
to pass on into life the knowledge
of what has died. What we owe the future
is not a new start, for we can only begin
with what has happened. We owe the future
the past, the long knowledge
that is the potency of time to come.
That makes of a man’s grave a rich furrow.
The community of knowing in common is the seed
of our life in this place. There is not only
no better possiblity, there is no
other, except for chaos and darkness,
the terrible ground of the only possible
new start. And so as the old die and the young
depart, where shall a man go who keeps
the memories of the dead, except home
again, as one would fo back after a burial,
faithful to the fields, lest the dead die
a second and more final death.

I don’t think I need to comment more upon what he has said, but this poem beautifully illuminates the true “potency” of a communal life: an extended memory.

Here is the conclusion to another wonderful poem (“Manifest: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” since its no longer in this post’s title) in an older collection of Wendell Berry’s poetry:

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest you head
in her lap. Swear allegience
to what is nighest in 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.
Practice resurrection.

For a poem which is composed of only imperatives,  can there be a better way to end? a more appropriate command?

© 2020, Joel Sumner Smith