Today is National Poetry Day in Britain, apparently. I’m not sure what that is supposed to involve, other than public money and a slot on Radio 4′s Today programme, but I thought I might honour the occasion by dropping today’s topic and posting a poem instead.
This is one of my favourite poems. It’s by Wendell Berry, a farmer, poet, philosopher, and a man with a deep understanding of life as a gift. It’s a beautiful reflection on quiet rebellion, homecoming, land and community, with just enough of a hint of madness to keep it from being sentimental. And it has an earthy and seditious spirituality to it that appeals to me. See what you think.
The Mad Farmer, flying the flag Rough Branch, secedes from the union
From the union of power and money,
from the union of power and secrecy,
from the union of government and science,
from the union of government and art,
from the union of science and money,
from the union of ambition and ignorance,
from the union of genius and war,
from the union of outer space and inner vacuity,
the Mad Farmer walks quietly away.
There is only one of him, but he goes.
He returns to the small country he calls home,
his own nation small enough to walk across.
He goes shadowy into the local woods,
and brightly into the local meadows and croplands.
He goes to the care of neighbors,
he goes into the care of neighbors.
He goes to the potluck supper, a dish from each house
for the hunger of every house.
He goes into the quiet of early mornings
of days when he is not going anywhere.
Calling his neighbours together into the sanctity of their lives
separate and together
in the one life of their commonwealth and home,
in their own nation small enough for a story
or song to travel across in an hour, he cries:
Come all ye conservatives and liberals
who want to conserve the good things and be free,
come away from the merchants of big answers,
whose hands are metalled with power;
from the union of anywhere and everywhere
by the purchase of everything from everybody at the lowest price
and the sale of anything to anybody at the highest price;
from the union of work and debt, work and despair;
from the wage-slavery of the helplessly well-employed.
From the union of self-gratification and self-annihilation,
secede into care for one another and for the good gifts of Heaven and Earth.
Come into the life of the body, the one body
granted to you in all the history of time.
Come into the body’s economy, its daily work,
and its replenishment at mealtimes and at night.
Come into the body’s thanksgiving, when it knows
and acknowledges itself a living soul.
Come into the dance of the community, joined
in a circle, hand in hand, the dance of the eternal
love of women and men for one another
and of neighbors and friends for one another.
Always disappearing, always returning,
calling his neighbors to return, to think again
of the care of flocks and herds, of gardens
and fields, of woodlots and forests and the uncut groves,
calling them separately and together, calling and calling,
he goes forever toward the long restful evening
and the croak of the night heron over the river at dark.