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Tag Archives: Wendell Berry

Be Still in Haste

When I read poetry, it gives me opportunities to consider the rich paradox that living brings with it. Wendell Berry proposes that in the title. How do I experience being still in haste?

David Bohm who was a theoretical physicist suggested that paradox dissolve unlike problems. Problems wait to be solved, but what if there are multiple ways to understand and solve the problem?

Bohm used the example of war and argued that people from all sides justified war citing problems with their enemies. Instead of asking about war, what if we asked about killing innocent children? Bohm suggested, for the most part, humans agreed that killing innocents was wrong. In that case, war is paradoxical and, when we begin with something we agree upon, we begin to dissolve the issue and see it through new eyes.

Time is similarly paradoxical. We act and speak as though we control, quantify, save, and manage it, but this moment is the only time we experience this moment. Time is fleeting and has qualities that resist us, dissolving in its fluidity becoming paradoxical. Time calls us to be present and mindful of the moment we live in, as it dissolves into the next never to be re-experienced.

How quietly I
begin again

from this moment
looking at the
clock, I start over

so much time has
passed, and is equaled
by whatever
split-second is present

from this
moment this moment
is the first.

Still Point

Max Reif describes the rush of life and the calling of nature somehow overriding that rush. The poem reminded me of biblical passage from Matthew 6:28 describing lilies as just being.

What is my hurry? What roots me in this place and time? I overlook the depth of those questions. I enjoy reading Wendell Berry‘s essays about farming. He reminds me that farming is a love of place and time. The small farm is home for people and nature. There is no separation.

My mother said farmers do not need Daily Savings Time. Depending on the time of the year, they understand their work based on the time and space they are in at that moment. When I think of the world as unpatterned, I sense its majestic wholeness and not compartments, rendering them virtual.

Leaving home
for work
each day

I hear the trees
say “What’s your hurry?”

Rooted, they
don’t understand

how in my world
we have to rush
to keep in step.

I haven’t even time
to stop and tell them
how on weekends, too,
schedules wait
like nets.

It’s only on a sick day
when I have to venture out
to pick up medicine

that I understand the trees,
there in all their fullness
in a world unpatterned

full of moments,
full of spaces,
every space
a choice.

This day
has not
been turned yet
on the lathe

this day
lies open, light
and shadow. Breath
fills the body easily.
I step

into a world
waiting like
a quiet lover.

“I” [“No, no, there is no going back”]

I purchased Wendell Berry’s latest book, Our Only World, on Sunday at Auntie’s, a small, independent book store since 1978. If you live in or near or visit Spokane, it is a nice location with restaurants near by.

After my purchases, I realized I had not used one of his poems in some time. I chose this one. I think it might be easy to say this is a bleak poem, talking about death. In a literal way, that makes sense. I take it figuratively.

Jacques Derrida contended that in becoming who we are the previous “who” repeatedly dies, but leaves memories and traces to be recalled. I read this poem, similarly. Who I am is metaphorically a grave of memories and traces that belong to me, but I share in various ways with others and the world. The tree is me standing guard over those memories. Guard might be too protective. Instead, similar to a tree’s rings signifying its age and even various years’ conditions, the tree represents the memories and stories about my living.

The tree allows me to recount my story, but not as it happened. My stories contain gaps, uncertainties, and ambiguity. I repeatedly edit them, filling in blanks, recalling events, and forgetting other things. As I recount my stories, they form a fictional account of who I am, where I’ve been, when I thrived, and when I struggled, similar to the rings on that poetic tree.

No, no, there is no going back.

Less and less you are

that possibility you were.

More and more you have become

those lives and deaths

that have belonged to you.

You have become a sort of grave

containing much that was

and is no more in time, beloved

then, now, and always.

And so you have become a sort of tree

standing over the grave.

Now more than ever you can be

generous toward each day

that comes, young, to disappear

forever, and yet remain

unaging in the mind.

Every day you have less reason

not to give yourself away.

 

Be Still in Haste

I find Wendell Berry’s poetry speaks to me about being mindful and attentive in each moment I live. It calls me to be present and explore the mystery in each moment, knowing each moment carries me like a river flowing without knowing where it is going.

The etymology of anarchy suggests we continuously begin anew in each moment. It is not a free-for-all with no rules. Instead, the universe provides us with the rules of what it means to live in that moment. In being present, I come to understand each moment is a re-beginning that is forever unfolding.

Taking the time to be present, allows me to be still even when the world and others are in haste.

How quietly I
begin again

from this moment

looking at the
clock, I start over

so much time has
passed, and is equaled
by whatever
split-second is present

from this
moment this moment
is the first

 

 

The Peace of Wild Things

I have many favourite poets that I always return to at various times. Wendell Berry is one of those poets. The words inspire me to pause, soak them in, and not rush on too quickly.

Sometimes just experiencing the primal world before I think about it is wonderful and filled with wonder as miracles show themselves slowly. It leaves me thoughtful and full of thought as I just, ponder, do not tax my life too much with forethought.

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.

Be Still in Haste

Wendell Berry is one of my favourite poets. He writes with such clarity and practical appreciation for the world. Even in clarity, the world remains ambiguous and fuzzy.

I read the last stanza of this poem as an example of the paradox and tension we try to hold. Perhaps, as much as I would like it to be different, time is always starting over in each moment. Each moments holds the eternity of time to paraphrase Alfred North Whitehead, yet I do not sense that unless I pause and notice time is passing me by.

Unless I pause, time passes me by and, yet, I cannot hold time still. It is inevitable it will start afresh in the next moment. In these pauses, I encounter the world and living as creative processes which I experience more fully when I am awake.

How quietly I
begin again

from this moment
looking at the
clock, I start over

so much time has
passed,  and is equaled
by whatever
split-second is present

from this
moment this moment
is the first.

 

1996 X (Some Sunday Afternoon, It May Be)

Thich Nhat Hanh suggested our ancestors are always with us. They join us in places and moments that hold special meaning to us. Place is particular. Wendell Berry who wrote this poem suggested we have lost our sense of place.

When we sit quietly and sense the world, just soak it in, it is an opportunity to re-discover place and its essence. We become grounded in the world and not sitting outside and observing. The ordinary reveals itself as extraordinary.

Some Sunday afternoon, it may be,

you are sitting under your porch roof,

looking down through the trees

to the river, down to the river. The circles

made by raindrops’ striking

expand, intersect, dissolve,

and suddenly (for you are getting on

now and much of your life is memory)

the hands of the dead, who have been here

with you, rest upon you tenderly

as the rain rests shining

upon the leaves. And you think then

(for thought will come) of the strangeness

of the thought of heaven, for now

you have imagined yourself there,

remembering with longing this

happiness, this rain. Sometimes here

we are there, and there is no death.

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