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the author Wendell Berry lives and farms with his family in Henry County, Kentucky, and is the author of more than thirty books of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. 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. To Berry, farming the land requires the same discipline as writing a poem. John Ditsky calls farming Berry’s “paradigm of art”. And Leon Driskell says frankly that Berry “is the same person when writing as when plowing”. Traditional farmers, like artists, learn their art through a kind of cultural process, the cyclic view of education, rather than through training or programming, the linear view. Berry explains that the best farming grows not only out of factual knowledge but out of cultural tradition; it is learned not only by precept but by example, by apprenticeship; and it requires not merely a competent knowledge of its facts and processes, but also a complex set of attitudes, a certain culturally evolved stance, in the face of the unexpected and the unknown. That is to say, it requires style in the highest and richest sense of that term.



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, NĂŠe 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



A JONQUIL FOR MARY PENN He ate hungrily the eggs, sausage, and biscuits that

angry. His glooms were the darkest she had ever

she set in front of him, twice emptying the glass that

seen. He worked as a hungry dog ate, and yet he

he replenished from a large pitcher of milk. She loved

could play at croquet or cards with the self-forgetful

to watch him eat-there was something curiously

exuberance of a little boy.

delicate in the way he used his large hands-but this

It was for his concentratedness, she supposed, if

morning she busied herself about the kitchen, not

such a thing could be supposed about, that she

looking at him, for she knew he was watching her.

loved him. That and her yen just to look at him, for it

She had not even set a place for herself.

was wonderful to her the way he was himself in his slightest look or gesture.

“You’re not hungry?” he asked. “Not very. I’ll eat something after while.”

She did not understand him in everything he did, and yet she recognized him in everything he did. She

He put sugar and cream in his coffee and stirred

had not been prepared—she was hardly prepared

rapidly with the spoon. Now he lingered a little.

yet—for the assent she had given to him.

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



BORN TO FARMING 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?



They were capable, unasking, generous, humorous women, and sometimes, among themselves, they were raucous and free, unlike the other women she had known. On their way home from picking blackberries one afternoon, they had to get through a new barbed wire fence. Josie Tom held two wires apart while the other four gathered their skirts, leaned down, and straddled through. Josie Tom handed their filled buckets over. And then Josie Braymer held the wires apart, and Josie Tom, stooping through, got the back of her dress hung on the top wire. When the next year came, they began at the beginning, and though the times had not improved, they improved themselves. They bought a few hens and a rooster from Josie Braymer. They bought a second cow. They put in a garden. They bought two shoats to raise for meat. Mary learned to preserve the food they would need for winter. When the cows freshened, she learned to milk. She took a small bucket of cream and a few eggs to Port William every Saturday night and used the money she made to buy groceries and to pay on their debts.




THE EARTH 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 mind’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.


She loved her jars of vegetables and preserves on the cellar shelves, and the potato bin beneath, the cured hams and shoulders and bacons hanging in the smokehouse, the two hens already brooding their clutches of marked eggs, the egg basket and the cream bucket slowly filling, week after week. But today these things seemed precious and far away, as if remembered from another world or another life. Her sickness made things seem arbitrary and awry. Nothing had to be the way it was. As easily as she could see the house as it was, she could imagine it empty, windowless, the tin roof blowing away, the chimneys crumbling, the cellar caved in, weeds in the yard. She could imagine Elton and herself gone, and the rest of them-Hardy, Hample, Cotman, and Quail-gone too.

local knowledge in the age of information Insofar as the center is utterly dependent upon

much as a serious thought for half a century. I read,

the periphery, its ignorance of the periphery is not

I believe, my full share of commentary on politics

natural or necessary, but is merely dangerous. The

and economics by accredited experts, and I can

danger is increased when this ignorance protects

assure you that you will rarely find in any of them

itself by contempt for the people who know. If the

even a passing reference to agriculture or forestry.

most intimate knowledge of the land from which

Our great politicians seem only dimly aware that an

you live belongs to people whom you consider to be

actual country lies out there beyond the places of

provincials or field niggers or hillbillies or hicks or

power, wealth, and knowledge. The ultimate official

rednecks, then you are not likely ever to learn

word on agriculture seems to have been spoken by

very much.

Dwight Eisenhower’s secretary of agriculture, Ezra Taft Benson, who told the farmers to “Get big or

Furthermore, the danger increases as the periphery

get out.”

is enlarged; the vulnerability of long supply lines is well understood. To give the most obvious example,

A predominantly urban population that is

the United States has chosen (if that is the right

contemptuous of the working people of the farms

word) to become an import-dependent society

and forests cannot know enough about the country

rather than to live principally from its own land and

to exercise a proper responsibility for its good use.

the work of its own people, as if dependence on

And ignorance in the center promotes ignorance on

imported goods and labor can be consistent with

the periphery. Knowledge that is not properly valued

political independence and self- determination.

decreases in value, and so finally is lost. It is not

This inconsistency is making us, willy-nilly, an

possible to uproot virtually the whole agricultural

imperial power, which perhaps increases “business

population by economic adversity, replacing it

opportunities” for our government’s corporate

with machines and chemicals, and still keep local

sponsors, but certainly increases our fragility and

knowledge of the land and land use at a high level

our peril. The economic independence of families,

of competence. We still know how to make the land

communities, and even regions has now been almost

produce, but only temporarily, for we are losing

completely destroyed.

the knowledge of how to keep it productive. Wes Jackson has written and often said that when the

Far from caring for our land and our rural people,

ratio of eyes to acres in agricultural landscapes

as we would do if we understood our dependence

becomes too wide, when the number of caretakers

on them, we have not, as a nation, given them so

declines below a level that varies from place to

place but is reckonable for everyplace, then good

conservative of its means, and respectful of its

husbandry of the land becomes impossible.

natural supports.

The general complacency about such matters seems

The assumption that science can serve as an

to rest on the assumption that science can serve

adequate connector between people and land, and

as a secure connection between land and people,

thus can effectively replace the common knowledge

designing beneficent means and methods of land

and culture of local farm communities, by now has

use and assuring the quality and purity of our food.

the status of an official program-though the aim of

But we cannot escape or ignore the evidence that

science, more often than not, is to connect capital

this assumption is false.

with profit. The ascendancy of the expert involves

There is, to begin with, too great a gap between the

a withdrawal or relinquishment of confidence

science and the practice of agriculture. This gap is

in local intelligence-that is, in the knowledge,

inherent in the present organization of intellectual

experience, and mental competence of ordinary

and academic life, and it formalizes the differences

people doing ordinary work. The result, naturally,

between knowing and doing, the laboratory or

is that the competence of local intelligence has

classroom and the world. It is generally true that

declined. We are losing the use of local minds at

agricultural scientists are consumers rather than

work on local problems. The right way to deal with

producers of agricultural products. They eat with

a problem, supposedly, is to summon an expert

the same freedom from farmwork, weather, and the

from government, industry, or a university, who

farm economy as other consumers, and perhaps

will recommend the newest centrally-devised

with the same naive confidence that a demand will

mechanical or chemical solution. Thus capital

dependably call forth a supply.

supposedly replaces intelligence as the basis of work, just as information supposedly replaces land

Moreover, the official agriculture of science, government, and agribusiness has been concerned almost exclusively with the ability of the land to produce food and fiber, and ultimately salaries, grants, and profits. It has correspondingly neglected its ecological and social responsibilities, and also, in many ways, its agricultural ones. It has ignored agriculture’s continuing obligations to be diverse,

as the basis of the economy.

the satisfactions of

a mad farmer


THE SUPPLANTING Where the road came, no longer bearing men, but

and set fire to the remnants of house and shed, and

briars, honeysuckle, buckbush and wild grape, the

let time hurry in the flame. I fired it so that all would

house fell to ruin, and only the old wife’s daffodils

burn, and watched the blaze settle on the waste like

rose in spring among the wild vines to be domestic

a shawl. I knew those old ones departed then, and

and to keep the faith, and her peonies drenched the

I arrived. As the fire fed, I felt rise in me something

tangle with white bloom. For a while in the years of

that would not bear my name-something that bears

its wilderness a wayfaring drunk slept clinched to

us through the flame, and is lightened of us,

the floor there in the cold nights. And then I came,

and is glad.

THE SATISFACTIONS OF A MAD FARMER continued the pastures deep in clover and grass,

the bodies of children, joyful

enough, and more than enough;

without dread of their spending, surprised at nightfall to be weary;

the ground, new worked, moist and yielding underfoot, the feet

the bodies of women in loose cotton,

comfortable in it as roots;

cool and closed in the evenings of summer, like contented houses’,

the early garden: potatoes, onions, peas, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, carrots,

the bodies of men, able in the heat

radishes, marking their straight rows

and sweat and weight and length

with green, before the trees are leafed,’

of the day’s work, eager in their spending, attending to nightfall, the bodies of women;

raspberries ripe and heavy amid their foliage, currants shining in clusters amid their foliage,

sleep after love, dreaming

strawberries red ripe with the white

white lilies blooming

flowers still on the vines-picked

coolly out of the flesh;

with the dew on them, before breakfast·, grape clusters heavy under broad leaves powdery bloom on fruit black with sweetness - an ancient delight, delighting;


the deer sprung from them, gone on;


live streams, live shiftings of the sun in the summer woods; the great hollow-trunked beech, a landmark I loved to return to, its leaves gold-lit on the silver

after sleep, enablement

branches in the fall: blown down

to go on with work, morning a clear gift;

after a hundred years of standing, a footbridge over the stream;

the maidenhood of the day, cobwebs unbroken in the dewy grass;

the quiet in the woods of a summer morning, the voice of a pewee passing through it like a tight silver

the work of feeding and clothing and housing, done


with more than enough knowledge and with more than enough love,

a little clearing among cedars,

by those who do not have to be told;

white clover and wild strawberries beneath an opening to the sky

any building well built, the rafters

-heavenly, I thought it,

firm to the walls, the walls firm,

so perfect; had I foreseen it

the joists without give,

I would have desired it

the proportions clear,

no less than it deserves;

the fitting exact, even unseen, bolts and hinges that turn

fox tracks in snow, the impact

home without a jiggle;

of lightness upon lightness, unendingly silent.

any work worthy ofthe day’s maidenhood; any man whose words lead precisely to what exists,

What I know of spirit is astir

who never stoops to persuasion;

in the world. The god I have always expected to appear at the woods’ edge, beckoning,

the talk of friends, lightened and cleared by all that

I have always expected to be

can be assumed;

a great relisher of this world, its good

deer tracks in the wet path,

grown immortal in his mind.



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 Berry, Wendell. The Way of Ignorance and Other Essays. Berkeley: Counter Point, 2005

This book was created by Elizabeth Natoli in the Communication Design Studio at Washington University in St. Louis in the spring semester of 2012. The typefaces used are Whitney and Amatic.

Farm to Table  

Poetry of Wendell Berry