The first essay I ever read by Wendell Berry was "Standing by Words". This is a man who cares about words, who takes our use of words with immense moral seriousness. Speech is one of the necessities of community, and therefore our use of language, our stewardship of words, is fraught with social consequence. Words are what we use to build trust, to encourage friendships, to speak truth, to inspire hope, to share the depths of love and grief and joy and the whole textured reality that is our human experience of the world, each other and that Other whom we call Creator and God.
It is one of the leading features of Berry's poetry that he is both observer and participant in the world of nature, eye and ear witness of the created world, immersed in what he lyrically describes as life. Many of his best poems celebrate the rhythms of seasons, life cycles of cows and horses, birds and trees, fields and woods, all this and more as a life affirming lifetime habit. I guess a good editor would say the word 'life ' is overused in that sentence. But it is the word that best describes Berry's passions and poems, and his stewardship of words.
The following are three extracts from a longer poem about a river, which he has lived beside, watched and walked alongside for a generation and more. Only someone who knows a river, has befriended and paid attention to its flow and movement, has listened carefully and long to its noises and watched the play of light, reflection, rain and wind on the surface, only such an observer, could write with such fluid confidence about what this river is about, who this river is in its landscape and timescape. The poem is printed in a book of Sabbath Poems - reading even these extracts, Sabbath begins to flow with the cadences of words and phrases, rhythmic rather than rhyming, languid with purpose, and above all, telling of gladness, gratitude and low grade but chronic wonder at the miracle of water, and life. Fascination with the ordinary, scrutiny of the natural, alertness to change and growth and the long slow processes of organic life; these are the heightened sensitivities of this poet of human interaction with the natural world.
Daylight rests brightly
on the surface of the river.
Sometimes, the air still,
world and sky rest
perfectly upon the water,
quiet as a happy dream.
Sometimes when the wind
stirs, the surface is all
an impenetrable glitter, without
image or depth. Beneath
that clutter of light, our floating
eyesight, the river is dark.
The light flows toward the earth,
the river towards the sea,
and these do not change.
The air changes, as the mind
changes at the word from the light,
a flash from the dark.
(Wendell Berry, This day, pages 230-31)
The photos are of the River Dee beyond Braemar, taken a year ago.