RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Wendell Berry

Axe Handles

I mentioned in The Wild Rose I am reading Gary Snyder and Wendell Berry. I read this poem several times over the last few months trying to make sense of it. At first, I thought it was a personal and it begins that way. Gary Snyder describes his work teaching his son to throw an axe and shaping the axe handle to fit the work.

As I reflected on the poem, I realized it is about important traditions passed from parents to children. We hone and polish what we wish to retain forming the axe handle. It is a handle for us and our children which provides security as we polish and remove the unwanted.

Most of the time, we are unaware of the work we do without taking time and reflecting. In those moments, we realize what changes, what remains, and what is added knowing each generation makes its own adjustments.

To do it well, we mindfully and attentively approach the work remaining fully present.

One afternoon the last week in April
Showing Kai how to throw a hatchet
One-half turn and it sticks in a stump.
He recalls the hatchet-head
Without a handle, in the shop
And go gets it, and wants it for his own.
A broken-off axe handle behind the door
Is long enough for a hatchet,
We cut it to length and take it
With the hatchet head
And working hatchet, to the wood block.
There I begin to shape the old handle
With the hatchet, and the phrase
First learned from Ezra Pound
Rings in my ears!
“When making an axe handle
the pattern is not far off.”
And I say this to Kai
“Look: We’ll shape the handle
By checking the handle
Of the axe we cut with-”
And he sees. And I hear it again:
It’s in Lu Ji’s Wen Fu, fourth century
A.D. “Essay on Literature”-in the
Preface: “In making the handle Of an axe
By cutting wood with an axe
The model is indeed near at hand.-
My teacher Shih-hsiang Chen
Translated that and taught it years ago
And I see: Pound was an axe,
Chen was an axe, I am an axe
And my son a handle, soon
To be shaping again, model
And tool, craft of culture,
How we go on.

The Wild Rose

I am reading poetry and prose written by Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder. What links the writers, is a shared belief humans live in the world. This fits with my dissertation about pedagogy. Humans are relational and social. When we live relationally and socially, our senses and heart open up to the world differently than living as passive observers.

Relationships are risky. Sometimes it is tempting to step back at times and be outside relationships. In the analytic mind, there is more risk than we want. Literally and metaphorically there are rewards. Literally, when we are present in the world we see wild roses and other natural manifestations bloom. Metaphorically, we see relationships with spouses, children, friends, students, etc. unfold and blossom like wild roses Wendell Berry mentions.

When we are in relationships, there is pleasure and pain mixed. Thomas Merton said we call it falling in love, because it is hard work. When I think of the most wonderful (wonder-filled) occurrences in my life, it is the ones I worked hard at. I found comfort in the hard work even when it hurt. Being mindful and attentive to the blooming in our lives is an essential part of relationships we enter.

Sometimes hidden from me

in daily custom and in trust,

so that I live by you unaware

as by the beating of my heart,

Suddenly you flare in my sight,

a wild rose blooming at the edge

of thicket, grace and light

where yesterday was only shade,

and once I am blessed, choosing

again what I chose before.

 

Travelling at Home

Wendell Berry is one of my favourite writers. He writes fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. There is an honesty and sparseness in his writing that speaks to me deeply. He bares his soul in ways that poets should. Even in the country we know by heart it is hard to go the same way twice. It is more likely impossible, but I would give Mr. Berry the benefit of the doubt and believe that is likely what he meant as he suggests we attempt to make intent with what happens by accident.

I chose the forming of the person, more specifically the teacher, as a central theme in my dissertation. Actually, the theme chose me. It was unintentional and strictly by accident. As I read and write, I find myself drawn to the topic and new thinking emerging where any word can be the bud of new direction.

Judith Butler suggests becoming is the vehicle forming each particular identity and subjectivity against a cultural backdrop which is always changing itself. Even when we name something, it is traversing the land. We can never plan our becoming even in a country we think we know by heart.

Even in a country you know by heart
it’s hard to go the same way twice.
The life of the going changes.
The chances change and make it a new way.
Any tree or stone or bird
can be the bud of a new direction. The
natural correction is to make intent
of accident. To get back before dark
is the art of going.

The Peace of Wild Things

Wendell Berry is one of my favourite poets. I have many favourites. It is much easier to find a poem when you have many.

We spend time each summer wandering through nature. I think for Kathy and I it is a return to our roots. We grew up in rural settings and were outdoors a lot as a result. I think as we mature, getting older is so passe, we look for the roots that connect us to the universe. Nature is one those things.

Alfred North Whitehead suggested we only need to look at nature to find the patterns we need in life.

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

I Go Among Trees

I begin with an apology to followers. The email feed of those who I follow has not worked the last two days. This is the second this has happened in the last couple of months. I am not sure what has caused the malfunction at the junction, but I will look into it this weekend after my classes wrap up for the week.

Wendell Berry wrote this poem about taking time and waiting for the right time to do the work. It has been busy and I will have time with a three-week break from classes to sit among the trees hopefully literally and figuratively

I go among the trees and sit still

All my stirring becomes quiet

around me like circles on water.

My tasks lie in their places

Where I left them, asleep like cattle…

Then what is afraid of me comes

and lives a while in my sight.

What it fears in me leaves me,

and the fear of me leaves it.

It sings, and I hear its song.

Then what I am afraid of comes.

I live for a while in its sight.

What I fear in it leaves it,

And the fear of it leaves me.

It sings, and I hear its song.

After days of labor,

mute in my consternations,

I hear my song at last,

and I sing it. As we sing,

the day turns, the trees move.

The Wild Geese

Wendell Berry is a great poet and writer. Several contributors to one of the texts we use in Eco-Ethics , Rethinking Nature, refer to his thinking. I call it deep thinking and takes us to another level of consciousness where there is an awareness that we are part of something much bigger.

I read Wendell Berry’s work and enjoy it immensely. He does not suggest I think like he does or live like he does in a low-tech world. What he proposes is I take time and think more deeply. I read somewhere that Berry, when he was much younger during the 1960′s was asked to write an anti-Vietnam War poem. He responded that he would not. The person asking was surprised as they had always believed he was opposed to the Vietnam War. He responded by saying he was not opposed to that particular war, just war in general. He wrote an anti-war poem with no reference to Vietnam. When I take time and engage in thinking at this level, I come to a different level of awareness than I usually do. It does not mean that I would things differently than I currently do. I become aware of the values I hold and act accordingly. Obviously, it is tricky. What if my values sanction war? What if my values sanction a view that nature is for human consumption? I think what Berry and others get is when we go deeper and look inside we see that we live in the world and not outside it as spectators.

When I read a poem like The Wild Geese, I am struck by the message of the last line: “What we need is here.” It likely always was. I need to open the persimmon seed to find the tree which is not separate from the seed. I am not separate from daily life or the world. I am in it. I need to go deeper to find it, recognize it, and cherish it.

Horseback on Sunday morning,

harvest over, we taste persimmon

and wild grape, sharp sweet

of summer’s end. In time’s maze

over fall fields, we name names

that went west from here, names

that rest on graves. We open

a persimmon seed

to find the tree that stands in promise,

pale, in the seed’s marrow.

Geese appear high over us,

pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,

as in love or sleep, holds

them in their way, clear,

in the ancient faith: what we need

is here. And we pray, no

for the new earth or heaven, but to be

quiet in the heart, and in eye

clear. What we need is here.

Manifesto of a Mad Farmer

Tony at A Way With Words asked if I like Wendell Berry. I do and rank him among my favourite poets. When I hear or read his name, I think of this poem.

What does it mean to be radical? The word radical comes from Old English and means going to one’s origins or roots. When I read this poem, it reminds me of the possibilities in a radical life. I can seek out my roots, the wisdom of those who came before me, and lived on the land. I love the second stanza and it just carries on from there for the rest of the poem.

Do something that does not compute, make many tracks, and sometimes confuse the world of where I go. Go against the grain.

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

The Peace of Wild Things

I have parent-teacher interviews for the next two evenings. It limits the time available for posting my own words. I began thumbing through one of my many poetry anthologies and came across this wonderful Wendell Berry poem that echoed yesterday’s post, Children in ways. Two of his poems at the link are about mad farmers. Wendell Berry is a compassionate, opinionated person. When I grow up, I want to be similar.

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

What If Nature Could Remember or Dream?

After I posted Open Heart; Open Mind, I recalled a Wendell Berry poem entitled In a Country Once Forested. I wondered what if nature really could remember? What would that be like? What if nature were a dreamer of dreams? I think Wendell Berry says it beautifully and wisely in this poem.

The young woodland remembers

the old, a dreamer dreaming

of an old holy book,

an old set of instructions,

and the soil under the grass

is dreaming of a young forest,

and under the pavement the soil

is dreaming of grass.

I think nature is can recall and able to dream dreams. It might look like this.

Open Heart; Open Mind

I walked out of the house and looked up at a clear sky. The Moon stood out in the sky and just below was a morning star. It is not a great picture, but it reminded me I live in a metropolitan area of over 1 million. I find my self rewarded when I take the time and see nature in that place. They are there; I only have to look for them.

See what I want

Hear what I choose

Instead, open my whole self.

Behold nature’s gifts

Hold close to the heart

Hidden only when I choose.

Nature waits for me

Quietly reveals its self

Open my whole self.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,209 other followers

%d bloggers like this: