Thursday, March 27, 2008

Wendell Berry: A Sure Horizon

Wendell Berry is a critical thinker who 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 was graciously written to encourage my creative writing students. The text of the letter is found in the entry posted below.

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)

The following poem gave me courage when I was under great pressure as an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Lexington to comply with the heretical views of my former bishop.

Do Not Be Ashamed
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.


Canon Tallis said...

I have long been a fan of Berry's although not always agreeing with his positions on politics and technology. But if we read Genesis aright, then we know that God has given to us the care of the earth which is a very great responsibility indeed. We must make a garden of the wilderness of the world, but it must be a garden respectful of God's creation and its order which means that we must first acknowledge that the creation is His and seek to know his order in it. And that, in the words of Psalm 148, is the beginning of all true science which is none other but a search for a true knowledge of God through the text of His creation.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Many people appreciate Mr. Berry's excellent poetry and insights without agreeing with all his political views. Still, we can all take a lesson from the small ecological footprint he leaves, and from his fierce independence, and from his integrity.