selected works by
WENDELL BERRY This book was created by Ariella Elovic in the Spring semester of Typography II at Washington University in St. Louis 2
WENDELL BERRY edited by Ariella Elovic
The care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope.
lives and farms with his family in Henry County, Kentucky, and is the author of more than thirty books of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Among his novels (set in the fictional community of Port William Kentucky) are Nathan Coulter (1960), A Place on Earth (1967), and The Memory of Old Jack (1974); short story collections include The Wild Birds (1986), Remembering (1988), Fidelity (1993), and Watch With Me (1994); collections
of essays include, among many others, A Continuous Harmony (1972), The Unsettling of America (1977), Recollected Essays (1981), and Sex, Economy, Freedom, & Community (1993); and among his many volumes of poetry are A Part (1980), The Wheel (1982), Collected Poems (1985) and Entries (1984). Berry’s work is an ongoing exploration of man’s use of and relationship to the land, and his writing constitutes, as Gary Tolliver has said, one man’s “continuing
search for avenues of reentry into a proper state of harmony with the natural world” (13). To proponents of modern “progress,” Berry’s ideas must seem regressive, unrealistic, radical. But no advice could be more needed and more practical, if we are to progress. Berry’s life, his farm work, his writing and teaching, his home and family, and all that each involves are extraordinarily integrated. He understands his writing as an attempt to elucidate
certain connections, primarily the interrelationships and interdependencies of man and the natural world. One of his premises in The Unsettling of America at once evinces his notion of cultural and natural interdependency: “Everything in the Creation is related to everything else and dependent on everything else” (46). The Unsettling of America is about connections and thus ramifications.
The grower of trees, the gardener, the man born to farming
whose hands reach into the ground and sprout
To him the soil is a divine drug. He enters into death yearly, and comes back rejoicing.
He has seen the light lie down in the dung heap, and rise again in the corn.
His thought passes along the row ends like a mole.
What miraculous seed has he swallowed that the unending sentence of his love
flows out of his mouth like a vine
clinging in the sunlight, and like water descending in the dark?
His memories lived in the place like
fingers locked in the rock ledges like roots.
When he died and his influence
entered the air I said, Let my mind be the earth of his thought, let his
kindness go ahead of me. Though I
do not escape the history barbed in my flesh, certain wise movements
of his hands, the turns of his speech keep with me. His hope of peace keeps with me in harsh days, the
shell of his breath dimming away three summers in the earth.
...if the land does not prosper, nothing else can prosper for very long.
I mean our country itself, our land. This is a terrible thing to know, but it is not a reason for despair unless we decide to continue the destruction. If we decide to continue the destruction, that will not be because we have no other choice. This destruction is not necessary. It is not inevitable, except that by our submissiveness we make it so...
threats to wilderness areas, but it is wrong. If conservationists hope to save even the wild lands and wild creatures, they are going to have to address issues of economy,which is to say issues of the health of the landscapes and the towns and cities where we do our work, and the quality of that work, and the well-being of the people who do the work.
Since the beginning of the conservation effort in our country, conservationists have too often believed that we could protect the land without protecting the people. This has begun to change, but for a while yet we will have to reckon with the old assumption that we can preserve the natural world by protecting wilderness areas while we neglect or destroy the economic landscapes-the farms and ranches and working forests and the people who use them. That assumption is understandable in view of the worsening
Governments seem to be making the opposite error, believing that the people can be adequately protected without protecting the land. And here I am not talking about parties or party doctrines, but about the dominant political assumption. Sooner or later, governments will have to recognize that if the land does not prosper, nothing else can prosper for very long. We can have no industry or trade or wealth or security if we donâ€™t uphold the health of the land and the people and the peopleâ€™s work.
To enrich the earth I have sowed clover and grass to grow and die.
I have plowed in the seeds of winter grains and of various legumes, their growth to be plowed in to enrich the earth. I have stirred into the
ground the offal and the decay of
the growth of past seasons and so
mended the earth and made its yield increase.
All this serves the dark. I am slowly falling into the fund of things.
And yet to serve the earth, not knowing what I serve, gives a
wideness and a delight to the air,
and my days do not wholly pass. It is the mindâ€™s service, for when the will fails so do the hands and one lives at the expense of life. After death, willing or not,
the body serves, entering the earth.
And so what was heaviest and most
mute is at last raised up into song.
A JONQUIL FOR MARY PENN Mary Penn was sick, though she said nothing about it when she heard Elton get up and light the lamp and renew the fires. He dressed and went out with the lantern to milk and feed and harness the team. It was early March, and she could hear the wind blowing, rattling things. She threw the covers off and sat up on the side of the bed, feeling as she did how easy it would be to let her head lean down again onto her knees. But she got up, put on her dress and sweater, and went to the kitchen. Nor did she mention it when Elton came back in, bringing the milk, with the smell of the barn cold in his clothes. “How’re you this morning?” he asked her, giving her a pat as she strained the milk. And she said, not looking at him, for she did not want him to know how she felt, “Just fine.”
He ate hungrily the eggs, sausage, and biscuits that she set in front of him, twice emptying the glass that he replenished from a large pitcher of milk. She loved to watch him eat—there was something curiously delicate in the way he used his large hands—but this morning she busied herself about the kitchen, not looking at him, for she knew he was watching her. She had not even set a place for herself. “You’re not hungry?” he asked. “Not very. I’ll eat something after while.” He put sugar and cream in his coffee and stirred rapidly with the spoon. Now he lingered a little. He did not indulge himself often, but this was one of his moments of leisure. He gave himself to his pleasures as concentratedly as to his work. He was never partial about anything; he never felt two ways at the same time. It was, she thought, a kind of childishness in him. When he was happy, he was entirely happy, and he could be as entirely
sad or angry. His glooms were the darkest she had ever seen. He worked as a hungry dog ate, and yet he could play at croquet or cards with the self-forgetful exuberance of a little boy. It was for his concentratedness, she supposed, if such a thing could be supposed about, that she loved him. That and her yen just to look at him, for it was wonderful to her the way he was himself in his slightest look or gesture. She did not understand him in everything he did, and yet she recognized him in everything he did. She had not been prepared—she was hardly prepared yet—for the assent she had given to him. Though he might loiter a moment over his coffee, the day, she knew, had already possessed him; its momentum was on him. When he rose from bed in the morning, he stepped into the day’s work, impelled into it by the tension, never apart from him, between what he wanted to do and what he could do. The little hillside
place that they had rented from his mother afforded him no proper scope for his ability and desire. They always needed money, but, day by day, they were getting by. Though the times were hard, they were not going to be in want. But she knew his need to surround her with a margin of pleasure and ease. This was his need, not hers; still, when he was not working at home, he would be working, or looking for work, for pay. This morning, delaying his own plowing, he was going to help Walter Cotman plow his corn ground. She could feel the knowledge of what he had to do tightening in him like a spring. She thought of him and Walter plowing, starting in the early light, and the two teams leaning into the collars all day, while the men walked in the opening furrows, and the steady wind shivered the dry grass, shook the dead weeds, and rattled the treetops in the woods...
She had grown up in a substantial house on a good upland farm. Her family was not wealthy, but it was an old family, proud of itself, always conscious of its position and of its responsibility to be itself. She had known from childhood that she would be sent to college. Almost from childhood she had understood that she was destined to be married to a solid professional man, a doctor perhaps, or (and this her mother particularly favored) perhaps a minister. And so when she married Elton she did so without telling her family. She already knew their judgment of Elton: “He’s nothing.” She and Elton simply drove down to Hargrave one late October night, awakened a preacher, and got married, hoping that their marriage would be accepted as an accomplished fact. They were
wrong. It was not acceptable, and it was never going to be. She no longer belonged in that house, her parents told her. She no longer belonged to that family. To them it would be as if she had never lived. She was seventeen, she had attended a small denominational college for less than two months, and now her life as it had been had ended. The day would come when she would know herself to be a woman of faith. Now she merely loved and trusted. Nobody was living then on Elton’s mother’s little farm on Cotman Ridge, where Elton had lived for a while when he was a child. They rented the place and moved in, having just enough money to pay for the new dish cabinet and the table and four chairs. Elton, as it happened, already owned a milk cow in addition to his team and a few tools.
It was a different world, a new world to her, that she came into then—a world of poverty and community. They were in a neighborhood of six households, counting their own, all within half a mile of one another. Besides themselves there were Braymer and Josie Hardy and their children; Tom Hardy and his wife, also named Josie; Walter and Thelma Cotman and their daughter, Irene; Jonah and Daisy Hample and their children; and Uncle Isham and Aunt Frances Quail, who were Thelma Cotman’s and Daisy Hample’s parents. The two Josies, to save confusion, were called Josie Braymer and Josie Tom. Josie Tom was Walter Cotman’s sister. In the world that Mary Penn had given up, a place of far larger and richer farms, work was sometimes exchanged, but the families were conscious of themselves in a way that set them apart from one another. Here, in this new world, neighbors were always working together. “Many hands make light
work,” Uncle Isham Quail loved to say, though his own old hands were no longer able to work much. Some work only the men did together, like haying and harvesting the corn. Some work only the women did together: sewing or quilting or wallpapering or housecleaning; and whenever the men were together working, the women would be together cooking. Some work the men and women did together: harvesting tobacco or killing hogs or any other job that needed many hands. It was an old community. They all had worked together a long time. They all knew what each one was good at. When they worked together, not much needed to be explained. When they went down to the little weather boarded church at Goforth on Sunday morning, they were glad to see one another and had much to say, though they had seen each other almost daily during the week.
Our great politicians seem only dimly aware that an actual country lies out there beyond the places of power, wealth, and knowledge.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE IN THE AGE OF INFORMATION
an excerpt Far from caring for our land and our rural people, as we would do if we understood our dependence on them, we have not, as a nation, given them so much as a serious thought for half a century. I read, I believe, my full share of commentary on politics and economics by accredited experts, and I can assure you that you will rarely find in any of them even a passing reference
to agriculture or forestry. Our great politicians seem only dimly aware that an actual country lies out there beyond the places of power, wealth, and knowledge. The ultimate official word on agriculture seems to have been spoken by Dwight Eisenhower’s secretary of agriculture, Ezra Taft Benson, who told the farmers to “Get big or get out.”
This neighborhood opened to Mary and Elton and took them in with a warmth that answered her parents’ rejection. The men, without asking or being asked, included Elton in whatever they were doing. They told him when and where they needed him. They came to him when he needed them. He was an apt and able hand, and they were glad to have his help. He learned from them all but liked best to work with Walter Cotman, who was a fine farmer. He and Walter were, up to a point, two of a kind; both were impatient of disorder—”I can’t stand a damned mess,” said Walter, and he made none—and both loved the employment of their minds in their work. They were unlike in that Walter was satisfied within the boundaries of his little farm, but Elton could not have been. Nonetheless, Elton loved his growing understanding of Walter’s character and his ways. Though he was a quiet man and gave neither instruction nor advice,
Walter was Elton’s teacher, and Elton was consciously his student. Once, when they had killed hogs and Elton and Mary had stayed at home to finish rendering their lard, the boiling fat had foamed up and begun to run over the sides of the kettle. Mary ran to the house and called Walter on the party line. “Tell him to throw the fire to it, “ Walter said. “Tell him to dip out some lard and throw it on the fire.” Elton did so, unbelieving, but the fire flared, grew hotter, the foaming lard subsided in the kettle, and Elton’s face relaxed from anxiety and self-accusation into a grin. “Well,” he said, quoting Walter in Walter’s voice, “it’s all in knowing how.”
Mary, who had more to learn than Elton, became a daughter to every woman in the community. She came knowing little, barely enough to begin, and they taught her much. Thelma, Daisy, and the two Josies taught her their ways of cooking, cleaning, and sewing; they taught her to can, pickle, and preserve; they taught her to do the women’s jobs in the hog killing. They took her on their expeditions to one another’s houses to cook harvest meals or to houseclean or to gather corn from the fields and can it. One day they all walked down to Goforth to do some wallpapering for Josie Tom’s mother. They papered two rooms, had a good time, and Josie Tom’s mother fixed them a dinner of fried chicken, creamed new potatoes and peas, hot biscuits, and cherry cobbler.
The serpent is gentle, compared to man. It is man, the inventor of cold violence, death as waste, who has made himself lonely among the creatures,
and set himself aside,
so that he cannot work in the sun with hope, or sit at peace in the shade of any tree.
The ripe grass heads bend in the
starlight in the soft wind, beneath them the darkness of the grass,
fathomless, the long blades rising
out of the well of time. Cars travel the valley roads below me, their
lights finding the dark, and racing on. Above their roar is a silence I have suddenly heard, and felt the country turn under the stars toward dawn.
I am wholly willing to be here
between the bright silent thousands of stars and the life of the grass pouring out of the ground.
The hill has grown to me like a foot.
Until I lift the earth I cannot move.
What must a man do to be at home in the world? There must be times when he is here as though absent,
gone beyond words into the woven
shadows of the grass and the flighty darknesses of leaves shaking in the wind, and beyond the sense of the weariness of engines and of his
own heart, his wrongs grown old unforgiven. It must be with him
as though his bones fade beyond
thought into the shadows that grow out of the ground so that
the furrow he opens in the earth opens ill in his bones,
and he hears the silence of the tongues of the dead tribesmen
buried here a thousand years ago. And then what presences will
rise up before him, weeds bearing flowers, and the dry wind rain! What songs he will hear!
WORK CITED Berry, Wendell. Fidelity Five Stories. New York and San Francisco: Pantheon Books, 1992 Berry, Wendell. Collected Poems 1957-1982. New York: North Point Press; Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1987
PHOTOGRAPHY Ansel Adams in the National Parks: Photographs from America’s Wild Places. Little, Brown and Company, 2010
PUBLISHED WORKS Berry, Wendell. The Way of Ignorance and Other Essays. Berkeley: Counter Point, 2005
Fiction Fidelity: Five Stories, 1992 Hannah Coulter, 2004 Jayber Crow, 2000 The Memory of Old Jack, 1974 Nathan Coulter, 1960 A Place on Earth, 1967 Remembering, 1988 That Distant Land: The Collected Stories, 2004 Watch with Me and Six Other Stories of the Yet-Remembered Ptolemy Proudfoot and His Wife, Miss Minnie, Née Quinch, 1994 The Wild Birds: Six Stories of the Port William Membership, 1986 A World Lost, 1996 Poetry The Broken Ground, 1964 Clearing, 1977 Collected Poems: 1951-1982, 1982 The Country of Marriage, 1973 Entries, 1994 Farming: A Hand Book, 1970 Given: New Poems, 2005 Openings, 1968 A Part, 1980 Sabbaths: Poems, 1987
Sayings and Doings, 1975 The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry, 1999 A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997, 1998 The Wheel, 1982 Essays Another Turn of the Crank, 1996 The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry, 2002 Citizenship Papers, 2003 A Continuous Harmony: Essays Cultural & Agricultural, 1972 The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural & Agricultural, 1981 Harlan Hubbard: Life and Work, 1990 The Hidden Wound, 1970 Home Economics: Fourteen Essays, 1987 Life Is a Miracle, 2000 The Long-Legged House, 2004 Recollected Essays: 1965-1980, 1981 Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community, 1992 Standing by Words, 1983 The Unforeseen Wilderness: Kentucky’s Red River Gorge, 1971 The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, 1977 What Are People For?, 1990