Sunday, June 5, 2016

Sunday's poem: Wendell Berry and 'the tyranny of things we do not need"

"The term “radical” has the same meaning in politics as it does in mathematics or in the word “radish.” It simply means “root.” So a radical would be a person who wants to address the root causes of a particular problem. In the proper sense of the term, I think I’ve probably become more radical."
Wendell Berry

“To live and work attentively in a diverse landscape such as this one—made up of native woodlands, pastures, croplands, ponds, and streams—is to live from one revelation to another, things unexpected, always of interest, often wonderful. After a while, you understand that there can be no end to this. The place is essentially interesting, inexhaustibly beautiful and wonderful. To know this is a defense against the incessant sales talk that is always telling you that what you have is not good enough; your life is not good enough. There aren’t many right answers to that. One of them, one of the best, comes from living watchfully and carefully the life uniquely granted to you by your place"
Wendell Berry

We who prayed and wept
Wendell Berry

We who prayed and wept
for liberty from kings
and the yoke of liberty
accept the tyranny of things
we do not need
In plenitude too free,
we have become adept beneath the yoke of greed

those who will not learn
in plenty to keep their place
must learn it by their need
when they have had their way
and the fields spurn their seed.
We have failed thy Grace. 
Lord, I flinch and pray,
send Thy necessity.

from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry


If we have become a people incapable
of thought, then the brute- thought
of mere power and greed
will think for us

If we have become incapable
of denying ourselves anything,
then all we have
will be taken from us.

If we have no compassion,
we will suffer alone, we will suffer
alone the destruction of ourselves.

These are merely the laws of this world
as known to Shakespeare, as known to Milton:

When we cease from human thought
a low and effective cunning
stirs in the most inhuman minds.

from Leavings by Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry is an American novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic and farmer. He has lived and worked on the same Kentucky farm for nearly 50 years, as his ancestors did before him. His farming family have been active in the farmer cooperative movement for generations.

He is one of the US's most distinguished and prolific authors and has written novels, short stories, poems, essays and political treatises.

Berry has raged against the injustice of industrial capitalist exploitation and been a political and social activist and campaigner for 50 years. He has protested against the Vietnam war, nuclear power, American foreign policy, big coal, mining companies, mountaintop removal, corporate agriculture, the death penalty, environmental destruction and political corruption.

Berry is Kentucky's most famous author and is the first living author to be inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame.

Berry's poetry display a reverence for life and moral and intellectual clarity. His poems are profound reflections on life, death, family and our connectedness to history, place and the environment. He also writes provocative political poems. Berry is a passionate critic of contemporary capitalism and a defender of the environment and local economies.

His first book of poetry was published in 1964 and consisted of a single poem titled November Twenty Six Nineteen Hundred Sixty Three, commemorating the death of John F. Kennedy.

A recent speech by Wendell Berry is here and some essays and interviews with Wendell Berry are here, here, here and here.

Someone once wrote of Wendell Berry:

"Wendell Berry continues as a great contrary example to the compromises others take in stride. Instead of being at odds with his conscience, he is at odds with his times. Cheerful in dissent, he writes to document and defend what is being lost to the forces of modernization, and to explain how he lives and what he thinks.

He is the sum of his beliefs. And those beliefs arise from a longstanding tradition most fully expressed in the American family farm, a self-sustaining economic enterprise that reinforced familial bonds and human obligations to the natural environment."

His poetry and essays feature regularly on this blog.

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