Thursday, April 24, 2014


For more than thirty-five years, Wendell Berry has been writing a series of poems inspired by the solitary, reflective walks he takes around his Kentucky farm on most Sundays.  According to Berry, the Sabbath poems "are about moments when heart and mind are open and aware."  

Many of the Sabbath poems appear in This Day: Collected & New Sabbath Poems (2013), which I have been reading in recent days.  One poem that keeps returning to my mind is No. VI of the 1998 collection.  It's a poem that reminds us of the fluid nature of life, the impermanence of all things, and the mounting losses that every person must encounter as the price for existence.  I find it both insightful and inspirational, and hope you will as well.

                                           SABBATH VI, 1998

                                        By expenditure of hope,
                                        Intelligence, and work,
                                        You think you have it fixed.
                                        It is unfixed by rule.
                                        Within the darkness, all 
                                        Is being changed, and you
                                        Also will be changed.

                                        Now I recall to mind 
                                        A costly year:  Jane Kenyon,
                                        Bill Lippert, Philip Sherrard,
                                        All in the same spring dead,
                                        So much companionship
                                        Gone as the river goes.

                                        And my good workhorse Nick
                                        Dead, who called out to me
                                        In his conclusive pain
                                        To ask my help.  I had
                                        No help to give.  And flood
                                        Covered the cropland twice.
                                        By summer's end there are
                                        No more perfect leaves.

                                        But won't you be ashamed
                                        To count the passing year
                                        At its mere cost, your debt 
                                        Inevitably paid?
                                        For every year is costly,
                                        As you know well.  Nothing
                                        Is given that is not
                                        Taken, and nothing taken
                                        That was not first a gift.

                                        The gift is balanced by
                                         Its total loss, and yet,
                                         And yet the light breaks in,
                                         Heaven seizing its moments
                                         That are at once its own
                                         And yours.  The day ends
                                         And is unending where
                                         The summer tanager,
                                         Warbler, and vireo
                                         Sing as they move among
                                         Illuminated leaves.