A Sunday Poem

Today I’m taking Bonny’s lead and sharing a bit of poetry that has struck me this week. I’ve written throughout this blog and have filled your comment sections about the fact that I’m “not a poetry person.” I don’t usually understand it and I find it so intimidating (other than our poetry teatime where we typically dip in and out of The Random House Book of Poetry for Children). But I’m trying to read a few poems a week and work myself up to a few poems a day. I’ve had Wendell Berry’s This Day: Collected & New Sabbath Poems loaded onto my Kindle for a while. My Goodreads page says that I started reading on December 29, 2019 and for a while I was trying to read a poem every Sunday morning. Clearly I fell off that wagon!

But I began again. And today seems like a good day to share one that I found especially beautiful. It’s sort of long, but I just poured a fresh cup of coffee and am ready to tackle typing it. This book of poetry is divided into the year the poems were written. This section is 1979 and is poem IV:

The bell calls in the town
Where forebears cleared the shaded land
And brought high daylight down
To shine on field and trodden road.
I hear, but understand
Contrarily, and walk into the woods.
I leave labor and load,
Take up a different story.
I keep an inventory
Of wonders and of uncommercial goods.

I climb up through the field
That my long labor has kept clear.
Projects, plans unfulfilled
Waylay and snatch at me like briars,
For there is no rest here
Where ceaseless effort seems to be required,
Yet fails, and spirit tires
With flesh, because failure
And weariness are sure
In all that mortal wishing has inspired.

I go in pilgrimage
Across an old fenced boundary
To wildness without age
Where, in their long dominion,
The trees have been left free.
They call the soil here “Eden” – slants and steeps
Hard to stand straight up on
Even without a burden.
No more a perfect garden,
There’s an immortal memory that it keeps.

I leave work’s daily rule
And come here to this restful place
Where music stirs the pool
And from high stations of the air
Fall notes of wordless grace,
Strewn remnants of the primal Sabbath’s hymn.
And I remember here
A tale of evil twined
With good, serpent and vine,
And innocence as evil’s stratagem

I let that go a while,
For it is hopeless to correct
By generations’ toil,
And I let go my hopes and plans
That no toil can perfect.
There is no vision here but what is seen:
White bloom nothing explains
But a mute blessedness
Exceeding all distress,
The fresh light stained a hundred shades of green.

Uproar of wheel and fire
That has contained us like a cell
Opens and lets us hear
A stillness longer than all time
Where leaf and song fulfill
The passing light, pass with the light, return,
Renewed, as in a rhyme.
This is no human vision
Subject to our revision:
God’s eye holds every leaf as light is worn.

Ruin is in place here:
The dead leaves rotting on the ground,
The live leaves in the air
Are gathered in a single dance
That turns them round and round.
The fox cub trots his almost pathless path
As silent as his absence.
These passings resurrect
A joy without defect,
The life that steps and sings in ways of death.

Wendell Berry, This Day: Collected & New Sabbath Poems

I’ve come to really love Wendell Berry. I read Jayber Crow last fall and it’s safe to say that it changed my life. I can relate almost everything to something I read in that book, which drives my husband crazy (he’s not a reader). So given how much I love Wendell Berry’s fiction, I thought he’d be a good launching point for poetry. I’m excited to read more this week!


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