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A Small Porch
More than 35 years ago, when the weather allowed, Wendell Berry began spending his sabbaths outdoors, walking and wandering around familiar territory, seeking a deep intimacy only time could provide. These walks arranged themselves into poems and each year since he has completed a sequence dated by the year of its composition.
Recently the lot was published in a collection, This Day, the Sabbath Poems 1979-2013. This new sequence for the following 2 years is one of the richest yet. This group provides a virtual syllabus for all of Mr. Berry’s cultural and agricultural work in concentrated form. Many of these poems are drawn from the view from a small porch in the woods, a place of stillness and reflection, a vantage point “of the one/life of the forest composed/of uncountable lives in countless/years each life coherent itself within/ the coherence, the great composure,/of all.”
Our very fields are flowing,
earth burdening the waters.
To be made thus new,
the place must be made less.
And we who walk upon it
as it is being made
submit ourselves to making
by it as we have made it,
its history and ours made
day by day the same.
And… these beautiful poems come together, in this volume, with “The Presence of Nature in the Natural World: A Long Conversation,” which is a new essay by Wendell Berry.
There is a boundary that may move somewhat, but can never be removed, between what we know and what we don’t, between our human minds and the mind of Nature or the mind of God. To ignore or defy that division, wishing to be as gods,.. is characteristic of a kind of science that is at once romantic and industrial, ever in search of new worlds to conquer. From its work, I fear, we can expect only a continuing spillover of violence, to the world and to ourselves.
But a scientist who knows that the boundary exists and accepts, even welcomes, its existence, who knows that the boundary has a human side and elects to stay on it, is a scientist of a kind opposed to the would-be masters of the universe. A poet, too, can choose the human side of that boundary…
If we can talk of limits and of scale, we can slack off our obsession with quantities and immensities and take up the study of form: of the forms of Nature’s work, of the forms by which our work might be adapted to hers. We may then become capable of the hope, I caught years ago from our friend John Todd, for “Elegant solutions predicated upon the uniqueness of place.”
A new collection of Wendell Berry poems is always an occasion of joyful celebration and this one is especially so.