Thursday, January 13, 2011

Calling Each Other Into Being

I spent the day with Wendell Berry, essayist, poet, activist and Kentucky farmer. No, not in the flesh, but with his words and his love for the land. Why?  Well, he's been crossing my mind now and again, his way of looking at life, his way of being in it. It's something I strive for, wish to emulate, on many different levels. And, as is so often the case, Life has a way of leading me right where I need to be. This time it was a bookstore.

One of my favorites is here in Moab, called Back of Beyond. It carries a thoughtful selection of books, both new and used. I stop in whenever I visit and always find something interesting, something that revitalizes and sustains me. Yesterday, I thought I went there to look for a book a friend had recommended,  How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, by Michael Gelb. I didn't find it. I found something else. It was quietly calling my name from the slim, divine stacks of the poetry section.

It was a little book of poems by Wendell Berry called, The Wheel. I opened it to a couple of lines that grabbed me by the lapels of my heart and wouldn't let go. I knew I had to have it. Though published in 1982, the printed price was suspiciously low and so I took it to the register to ask her about it. She showed me, in pencil on the inside cover, the actual price. And why.  On the title page, under his name, was his personal signature. A signed copy. Needless to say, it came home with me.

Today, I spent some time with it, savoring certain lines, reminding myself why I love the land, its inherent beauty and goodness, the simplicity of life it offers, and why loving the land is really no different than loving a spouse, a parent, a child, a sibling, or a dear friend. It offers fine companionship, open and honest communication, and a sense of place that sometimes seems hard to come by in a world of 7 billion people.

As we move in, around, and through each others lives, the land gives shape and form, provides contentment,  "in the sweet enclosure of the song."

The Wheel
For Robert Penn Warren

At the first strokes of the fiddle bow
the dancers rise from their seats.
The dance begins to shape itself
in the crowd, as couples join,
and couples join couples, their movement
together lightening their feet.
They move in the ancient circle
of the dance. The dance and the song
call each other into being. Soon
they are one - rapt in a single
rapture, so that even the night
has its clarity, and time
is the wheel that brings it round.

In this rapture the dead return.
Sorrow is gone from them.
They are light. They step
into the steps of the living
and turn with them in the dance
in the sweet enclosure
of the song, and timeless
is the wheel that brings it round.

~ Wendell Berry


  1. That's a powerful poem!
    Happy Weekend Teresa!
    xo Catherine

  2. I read the Berry poem a few times, and enjoyed his amazing thoughts.I will have to find more about him.I wondered if after reading Kerouac if you had looked at other beat poets of that same era? He led me to City Lights Bookstore in San Fransisco, and a whole new selection of authors.

  3. Catherine, Stay warm up there and have a great weekend!

    Steve, At one time I immersed myself in all things Beat. I even thought about going back to get my Master's and making it my focus. It's nice to know someone else who shares my appreciation for this generation and its genre.

  4. I like the communal aspect of the poem, couples joining around the wheel of life and sustenance.

  5. Hi Paul, Yes, it reminds me of so many farm families I have known, where that sense of community is strong.

  6. What a great find. I'm envious.

    Thanks for publishing the poem.

  7. My pleasure. What a fine man he is, his poetry eloquent in its simplicity.

  8. I was unfamiliar with Wendell Barry. Right book, right place, right time. Wonderful. Many, many moons ago, I studied modern dance. Just a couple of years. Like couple dancing, community was embedded in much of modern dance. It carried aspects of irresistible force. Singing in a 120 voice acappella choir in high school had the same feel. "...movement together lightening feet"..."in the ancient circle"..."one"..."and they are light". Thank you Teresa for the journey shared. I will find his work.

  9. Hi Chris, I took some modern dance classes in college, in the Before Time, and understand what you're saying. An interesting analogy. Never sang in an acapella choir,though. I can imagine how uplifting that would feel... nice. I think you'll like what he has to say.

  10. I wasn't familiar with Wendell Berry, either, but I sure did enjoy that bit of poetry!

  11. He's a really fine writer. Writes about the land and its people. Very nice.