Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Morning Reading: Wendell Berry: "burning the world to live in it is wrong"

If I were teaching this semester, rather than sabbatical-ing, I would probably share this poem in class and fashion a writing assignment inspired from it, using a speech as the form and premise.

From the September 28 edition of The New Yorker:

A Speech to the Garden Club of America
by Wendell Berry

(With thanks to Wes Jackson and in memory of Sir Albert Howard and Stan Rowe.)

Thank you. I’m glad to know we’re friends, of course;

There are so many outcomes that are worse.

But I must add I’m sorry for getting here

By a sustained explosion through the air,

Burning the world in fact to rise much higher

Than we should go. The world may end in fire

As prophesied—our world! We speak of it

As “fuel” while we burn it in our fit

Of temporary progress, digging up

An antique dark-held luster to corrupt

The present light with smokes and smudges, poison

To outlast time and shatter comprehension.

Burning the world to live in it is wrong,

As wrong as to make war to get along

And be at peace, to falsify the land

By sciences of greed, or by demand

For food that’s fast or cheap to falsify

The body’s health and pleasure—don’t ask why.

But why not play it cool? Why not survive

By Nature’s laws that still keep us alive?

Let us enlighten, then, our earthly burdens

By going back to school, this time in gardens

That burn no hotter than the summer day.

By birth and growth, ripeness, death and decay,

By goods that bind us to all living things,

Life of our life, the garden lives and sings.

The Wheel of Life, delight, the fact of wonder,

Contemporary light, work, sweat, and hunger

Bring food to table, food to cellar shelves.

A creature of the surface, like ourselves,

The garden lives by the immortal Wheel

That turns in place, year after year, to heal

It whole. Unlike our economic pyre

That draws from ancient rock a fossil fire,

An anti-life of radiance and fume

That burns as power and remains as doom,

The garden delves no deeper than its roots

And lifts no higher than its leaves and fruits.


1 comment:

Susan Matthewson said...

A delightful poem by Mr. Berry. And perhaps his plea to return to the garden is being heard more than he might guess: The latest issue of Harper's Magazine under the monthly Harper's Index feature notes that in just one year, since 2008, the percentage increase of the number of U.S. households planting gardens has gone up by 19 percent. The Index also notes that the percentage of the gardeners who say the recession figured in their planting is 62 percent. So perhaps, even the financial meltdown will some positive effects.

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