Wednesday, July 20, 2016


Collage of Happiness

Followers of this blog know that I frequently return to the poetry and essays of Wendell Berry, a remarkable philosopher and writer whose poems and essays speak to me almost daily as I try to navigate the treacherous waters of an increasingly complex and rapidly changing world.  The poem that has my attention at the moment is Sabbath poem VI from 2007, as it appears in This Day: Collected & New Sabbath Poems (2013).  It's a poem about hope, but not the abstract notion of hope that one might find on a Hallmark sympathy card.  It's about what could happen to the world if each person could find his or her place, come to truly know that place, and recognize that caring for this place — this local place "underfoot," as Berry writes — is, ironically, the best way to care for the whole earth and the whole of humanity.

Knowing that most people do not have the time to devote to a lengthy blog posting, I hesitate to post a poem as long as this one.  I'm making an exception, however, because I think that the subject addressed — keeping hope alive by living well and responsibly on a local level — is vitally important, especially when our world leaders seem to be so bereft of solutions.

Sabbath Poem VI (2007)
This Day: Collected & New Sabbath Poems
 by Wendell Berry

            It is hard to have hope.  It is harder as you grow old,
            for hope must not depend on feeling good
            and there is the dream of loneliness at absolute midnight.
            You also have withdrawn belief in the present reality
            of the future, which surely will surprise us, 
            and hope is harder when it cannot come by prediction
            any more than by wishing.  But stop dithering.
            The young ask the old to hope.  What will you tell them?
            Tell them at least what you say to yourself.

            Because we have not made our lives to fit
            our places, the forests are ruined, the fields eroded,
            the streams polluted, the mountains overturned.  Hope
            then to belong to your place by your own knowledge
            of what it is that no other place is, and by
            your caring for it as you care for no other place, this 
            place that you belong to though it is not yours, 
            for it was from the beginning and will be to the end.

            Belong to your place by knowledge of the others who are
            your neighbors in it: the old man, sick and poor, 
            who comes like a heron to fish in the creek,
            and the fish in the creek, and the birds who sing
            in the trees in the silence of the fisherman
            and the heron, and the trees that keep the land
            they stand upon as we too must keep it, or die.

            This knowledge cannot be taken from you by power
            or by wealth.  It will stop your ears to the powerful
            when they ask for your faith, and to the wealthy
            when they ask for your land and your work.
            Answer with knowledge of the others who are here
            and of how to be here with them.  By this knowledge
            make the sense you need to make.  By it stand
            in the dignity of good sense, whatever may follow.

            Speak to your fellow humans as your place
            has taught you to speak, as it has spoken to you.
            Speak its dialect as your old compatriots spoke it
            before they had heard a radio.  Speak
            publicly what cannot be taught or learned in public.

            Listen privately, silently to the voices that rise up 
            from the pages of books and from your own heart.
            Be still and listen to the voices that belong
            to the streambanks and the trees and the open fields.
            There are songs and sayings that belong to this place,
            by which it speaks for itself and no other.

            Found your hope, then, on the ground under your feet.
            Your hope of Heaven, let it rest on the ground
            underfoot.  Be lighted by the light that falls
            freely upon it after the darkness of nights
            and the darkness of our ignorance and madness.
            Let it be lighted also by the light that is within you,
            which is the light of imagination.  By it you see
            the likeness of people in other places to yourself
            in your place.  It lights invariably the need for care 
            toward other people, other creatures, in other places
            as you would ask them for care toward your place and you.

            No place at last is better than the world.  The world
            is no better that its places.  Its places at last
            are no better than their people while their people
            continue in them.  When the people make
            dark the light within them, the world darkens.

Wendell  Berry, This Day: Collected and New Sabbath Poems

One of the sentinels on my little piece of land . . .


  1. Beautiful poem and beautiful sentinel George.

  2. Wonderful sentiments in this poem George, thank you for posting it. I concur entirely for when we love and care for a particular place, it loves us back. And your collage of happiness is beautiful.

    1. Thanks for your generous comment, Morelle. I obviously admire the sentiments in Berry's poem, but I also love your way of putting it: "When we love and care for a particular place, it loves us back."

  3. Wise words indeed. I hope that others will take the time to read and absorb them.

    1. Thanks so much, John. I, too, hope that more people will spend a little time with these wise words from Wendell Berry. In a time when we are facing political and environmental crises on a global level, it is more important than ever for us love and responsibly nurture our own places, our own small communities — in short, to work from the bottom up, rather from the top down.