A journey between death and life and death once more.
THE MAN 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?
The man behind the writing 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. 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 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.
Rugged Individualism THE CAREER OF RUGGED INDIVIDUALISM in America has run
the over–whelming wealth and influence of these “persons,” the elected
mostly to absurdity, tragic or comic. But it also has done us a certain
representatives and defenders of “the people of the United States” be-
amount of good. There was a streak ont in Thoreau, who went alone to
come instead the representatives and defenders of the corporations.
jail in protest against the Mexican War. And that streak has continued in his successors who have suffered penalties for civil disobedience because of their perception that the law and the government were not always or necessarily right. This is individualism of a kind rugged enough, and it has been authenticated typically by its identification with a communal good. The tragic version of rugged individualism is in the presumptive “right” of individuals to do as they please, as if there
It has become ever more clear that this sort of individualism has never proposed or implied any protection of the rights of all individuals, but instead has promoted a ferocious scramble in which more and more of the rights of “the people” have been gathered into the ownership of fewer and fewer ofthe greediest and most powerful “persons.” I have described so far what most of us would identify as the rugged
were no God, no legitimate government, no community, no neighbors,
individualism of the political right. Now let us have a look at the left. The
and no posterity. This is most frequently understood as the right to do
rugged individualism of the left believes that an individual's body is a
whatever one pleases with one's property. One's property, according to
property belonging to that individual absolutely: The owners of bodies
this formulation, is one's own absolutely.
may, by right, use them as they please, as if there were no God, no legit-
Rugged individualism of this kind has cost us dearly in lost topsoil, in destroyed forests, in the increasing toxicity of the world, and in annihilated species. When property rights become absolute they are invariably destructive, for then they are used to justify not only the abuse of things of permanent value for the temporary benefit of legal owners, but also the appropriation and abuse of things to which the would–be owners have no rights at all, but which can belong only to the public or to the entire community of living creatures: the atmosphere, the water cycle, wilderness, ecosystems, the possibility of life. This is made worse when great corporations are granted the status of “persons,” who then can also become rugged individuals, insisting on their right to do whatever they please with their property. Because of
imate government, no community, no neighbors, and no posterity. This supposed right is manifested in the democratizing of “sexual liberation”; in the popular assumption that marriage has been “privatized” and so made subordinate to the wishes of individuals; in the proposition that the individual is “autonomous”; in the legitimation of abortion as birth control in the denial, that is to say, that the community, the family, one's spouse, or even one's own soul might exercise a legitimate proprietary interest in the use one makes of one's body. And this too is tragic, for it sets us “free” from responsibility and thus from the possibility of meaning. It makes unintelligible the self–sacrifice that sent Thoreau to jail. The comedy begins when these two rugged (or “autonomous”) individualisms confront each other. Conservative individualism strongly sup-
ports “family values” and abominates lust. But it does not dissociate itself from the profits accruing from the exercise of lust (and, in fact, ofthe other six deadly sins), which it encourages in its advertisements. The “conservatives” of our day understand pride, lust, envy, anger, covetousness, gluttony, and sloth as virtues when they lead to profit or to political power. Only as unprofitable or unauthorized personal indulgences do they rank as sins, imperiling salvation of the soul, family values, and national security. Liberal individualism, on the contrary, understands sin as a private matter. It strongly supports protecting “the environment,” which is that part of the world which surrounds, at a safe distance, the privately–owned body. “The environment” does not include the economic landscapes of agriculture and forestry or their human communities, and it does not include the privately–owned bodies ofother people – all of which appear to have been bequeathed in fee simple to the corporate individualists. Conservative rugged individualists and liberal rugged individualists believe alike that they should be “free” to get as much as they can of whatever they want. Their major doctrinal difference is that they want (some of the time) different sorts of things. “Every man for himself” is a doctrine for a feeding frenzy or for a panic in a burning night club, appropriate for sharks or hogs or perhaps a cascade of lemmings. A society wishing to endure must speak the language of care– taking, faith–keeping, kindness, neighborliness, and peace. That language is another precious resource that cannot be “privatized.”
In his world The hill pasture, an open place among the trees, tilts into the valley. The clovers and tall grasses are in bloom. Along the foot of the hill dark floodwater moves down the river. The sun sets. Ahead of nightfall the birds sing. I have climbed up to water the horses and now sit and rest, high on the hillside, letting the day gather and pass. Below me cattle graze out across the wide fields of the bottomlands, slow and preoccupied as stars. In this world men are making plans, wearing themselves out, spending their lives, in order to kill each other.
â€œ...In this world men are making plans, wearing themselves out, spending their lives, in order to kill each other.â€?
A Praise 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.
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.
“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 Cot-
man plow his corn ground. She could feel the knowledge of what he had to
which had never been a good one and had seen hard use. The wallpaper,
do tightening in him like a spring. She thought of him and Walter plowing,
and probably the plaster behind, had cracked in places. The finish had worn
starting in the early light, and the two teams leaning into the collars all day,
off the linoleum rugs near the doorways and around the stoves. But she kept
while the men walked in the opening furrows, and the steady wind shivered
the house clean. She had made curtains. The curtains in the kitchen were
the dry grass, shook the dead weeds, and rattled the treetops in the woods.
of the same blue and–white checkered gingham as the tablecloth. The bed
He stood and pushed in his chair. She came to be hugged as she knew he wanted her to. “It’s mean out,” he said. “Stay in today. Take some care of yourself.” “You, too,” she said. “Have you got on plenty of clothes?” “When I get ‘em all on, I will.” He was already wearing an extra shirt and a pair of overalls over his corduroys. Now he put on a sweater, his work jacket, his cap and gloves. He started out the door and then turned back. “Don’t worry about the chores. I’ll be back in time to do everything.” “All right,” she said. He shut the door. And now the kitchen was a cell of still lamplight under the long wind that passed without inflection over the ridges. She cleared the table. She washed the few dishes he had dirtied and put them away. The kitchen contained the table and four chairs, and the small dish cabinet that they had bought, and the large iron cookstove that looked more permanent than the house. The stove, along with the bed and a few other sticks of furniture, had been there when they came. She heard Elton go by with the team, heading out the lane. The daylight would be coming now, though the windowpanes still reflected the lamplight. She took the broom from its corner by the back door and swept and tidied up the room. They had been able to do nothing to improve the house,
stands were orange crates for which she had made skirts of the same cloth. Though the house was poor and hard to keep, she had made it neat and homey. It was her first house, and usually it made her happy. But not now. She was sick. At first it was a consolation to her to have the whole day to herself to be sick in. But by the time she got the kitchen straightened up, even that small happiness had left her. She had a fever, she guessed, for every motion she made seemed to carry her uneasily beyond the vertical. She had a floaty feeling that made her unreal to herself. And finally, when she put the broom away, she let herself sag down into one of the chairs at the table. She ached. She was overpoweringly tired.
â€œThe past is our definition. We may strive, with good reason, to escape it, or to escape what is bad in it, but we will escape it only by adding something better to it.â€? Wendell Berry
I am oppressed by all the room taken up by the dead, their headsontes standing shoulder to shoulder the bones imprisoned under them. Plow up the graveyards! Haul off the monuments! Pry open the vaults and the coffins so the dead may nourish their graves and go free, their acres traversed all summer by crop rows and cattle and foraging bees.
The The hand is risen from the earth, the sap risen, leaf come back to branch, bird to nest croch. Beans lift their heads up in the row. The known returns to be known again. Going and coming back, it forms its curves, a nerved ghostly anatomy in the air.
Works Cited Fiction Fidelity: Five Stories, 1992
The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural & Agricultural, 1981
Hannah Coulter, 2004
Harlan Hubbard: Life and Work, 1990
Jayber Crow, 2000
The Hidden Wound, 1970
The Memory of Old Jack, 1974
Home Economics: Fourteen Essays, 1987
Nathan Coulter, 1960
Life Is a Miracle, 2000
A Place on Earth, 1967
The Long-Legged House, 2004
Recollected Essays: 1965-1980, 1981
That Distant Land: The Collected Stories, 2004
Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community, 1992
Watch with Me and Six Other Stories of the Yet-Remembered
Standing by Words, 1983
Ptolemy Proudfoot and His Wife, Miss Minnie, NĂŠe Quinch, 1994
The Unforeseen Wilderness: Kentuckyâ€™s Red River Gorge, 1971
The Wild Birds: Six Stories of the Port William Membership, 1986
The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, 1977
A World Lost, 1996
What Are People For?, 1990
The Broken Ground, 1964 Clearing, 1977 Collected Poems: 1951-1982, 1982
Berry, Wendell. Fidelity Five Stories. New York and San Francisco:
The Country of Marriage, 1973
Pantheon Books, 1992
Berry, Wendell. Collected Poems 1957-1982. New York: North Point Press; Farrar,
Farming: A Hand Book, 1970
Straus, and Giroux, 1987
Given: New Poems, 2005 Openings, 1968 A Part, 1980 Sabbaths: Poems, 1987
Berry, Wendell. The Way of Ignorance and Other Essays. Berkeley: Counter Point, 2005 In this world
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
This book was created by Michael Tarazi, a junior majoring in Communication
Citizenship Papers, 2003
Design at Washington University in St. Louis. All writen material is credited to
A Continuous Harmony: Essays Cultural & Agricultural, 1972
Wendell Berry .