I.Beautiful poems to ponder as we approach a most unwanted anniversary...
I know that I have life
only insofar as I have love.
I have no love
except it come from Thee.
Help me, please, to carry
this candle against the wind.
They gather like an ancestry
in the centuries behind us:
the killed by violence, the dead
in war, the “acceptable losses” —
killed by custom in self-defense,
by way of correction, as revenge,
for love of God, for the glory
of the world, for peace; killed
for pride, lust, envy, anger,
covetousness, gluttony, sloth,
and fun. The strewn carcasses
cease to feed even the flies,
the stench passes from them,
the earth folds in the bones
like salt in a batter.
And we have learned
nothing. “Love your enemies,
bless them that curse you,
do good to them that hate you” —
it goes on regardless, reasonably:
the always uncompleted
symmetry of just reprisal,
the angry word, the boast
of superior righteousness,
hate in Christ’s name,
scorn for the dead, lies
for the honor of the nation,
centuries bloodied and dismembered
for ideas, for ideals,
for the love of God!
We were standing by the road,
seven of us and a small boy.
We had just rescued a yellow swallowtail
disabled on the pavement when a car
approached too fast. I turned to make sure
of the boy, and my old border collie
Nell, too slow coming across,
was hit, broken all to pieces, and died
at once, while the car sped on.
And I cried, not thinking what
I meant, “God damn!” And I did wish
all automobiles in Hell,
where perhaps they already are.
Nell’s small grave, opening
at the garden’s edge to receive her
out of this world’s sight forever,
reopens many graves. Digging,
the old man grieves for his old dog
with all the grief he knows,
which seems again to be approaching
enough, though he knows there is more.
How simple to be dead! — the only
simplification there is, in fact, Thoreau
to the contrary notwithstanding.
Nell lay in her grave utterly still
under the falling earth, the world
all astir above, a million leaves
alive in the wind, and what do we know?
I tremble with gratitude
for my children and their children
who take pleasure in one another.
At our dinners together, the dead
enter and pass among us
in living love and in memory.
And so the young are taught.
If we have become a people incapable
of thought, then the brute-thought
of mere power and mere greed
will think for us.
If we have become incapable
of denying ourselves anything,
then all that we have
will be taken from us.
If we have no compassion,
we will suffer alone, we will suffer
alone the destruction of ourselves.
These are merely the laws of this world
as known to Shakespeare:
When we cease from human thought,
a low and effective cunning
stirs in the most inhuman minds.
Eternity is not infinity.
It is not a long time.
It does not begin at the end of time.
It does not run parallel to time.
In its entirety it always was.
In its entirety it will always be.
It is entirely present always.
Hardly escaping the limitless machines
that balk his thoughts and torment his dreams,
the old man goes to his own
small place of peace, a patch of trees
he has lived from many years,
its gifts of a few fence posts and boards,
firewood for winter, some stillness
in which to know and wait. Used
and yet whole this dear place is, whole
by its own nature and by his need.
While he lives it will be whole,
and after him, God willing, another
will follow in that membership
that craves the wholeness of the world
despite all human loss and blame.
In the lengthening shadow he has climbed
again to the ridgetop and across
to the westward slope to see the ripe
light of autumn in the turning trees,
the twilight he must go by now
that only grace could give. Thus far
he keeps the old sectarian piety:
By grace we live. But he can go
no further. Having known the grace
that for so long has kept this world,
haggard as it is, as we have made it,
we cannot rest, we must be stirring
to keep that gift dwelling among us,
eternally alive in time. This
is the great work, no other, none harder,
none nearer rest or more beautiful.
A hawk in flight
The clearing sky
A young man’s thought
An old man’s cry
Born by our birth
Here on the earth
Our flesh to wear
Our death to bear
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Berry on Life and Death
Excerpts from Sabbaths 2005, by Wendell Berry