Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Wendell Berry: Be Not Ashamed!

One of my favorite poets is fellow Kentuckian, Wendell Berry. He has written over 27 books of poetry, many novels and numerous essays. His interests are many and wide. He lives on a 120 acre farm in northern Kentucky and types his letters on an old typewriter. One of those letters hangs framed in my lakeside cottage. The letter is dated February 22, 2005 and was graciously written to encourage my creative writing students at Millersburg Military Institute.

Mr. Berry advocates and practices sustainable farming and is a critic of American technological arrogance. He has written, "The time will soon come when we will not be able to remember the horrors of September 11 without remembering also the unquestioning technological and economic optimism that ended on that day. This optimism rested on the proposition that we were living in a 'new world order' and a 'new economy' that would 'grow' on and on, bringing a prosperity of which every new increment would be 'unprecedented' ". (Thoughts in the Presence of Fear)

What follows is a haunting poem that gave me courage as an Episcopal priest who refused to comply with the heretical teachings of that "church".

Do Not Be Ashamed
By Wendell Berry

You will be walking some night
in the comfortable dark of your yard
and suddenly a great light will shine
round about you, and behind you
will be a wall you never saw before.
It will be clear to you suddenly
that you were about to escape,
and that you are guilty: you misread
the complex instructions, you are not
a member, you lost your card
or never had one. And you will know
that they have been there all along,
their eyes on your letters and books,
their hands in your pockets,
their ears wired to your bed.
Though you have done nothing shameful,
they will want you to be ashamed.
They will want you to kneel and weep
and say you should have been like them.
And once you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness.
They will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach. Be ready.
When their light has picked you out
and their questions are asked, say to them:
"I am not ashamed." A sure horizon
will come around you. The heron will begin
his evening flight from the hilltop.


Alice C. Linsley said...

Thank you, Mr. Berry, if you ever read this. Thanks for these words that make me stronger.

Susan Bean,Lexington,Ky. said...

These words have meant so much to me for a very long time. What is wonderful us I find there is a younger group of people who have found this beautiful writing and are cherishing it too. Wendell Berry is such a gift to us al,. We must be grateful for his insights& the beauty he lays before us. Susan Bean ,Lexington,Ky.

Alice Linsley said...

Susan, I live in Central KY. Some of the students whose work is published here are from schools in the Lexington area.

Have you seen this letter from Wendell Berry to my Creative Writing students?