“Sabbaths – 1979, IV”
The bell calls in the town Where forebears cleared the shaded land And brought high daylight down To shine on field and trodden road. I hear, but understand Contrarily, and walk into the woods. I leave labor and load, Take up a different story. I keep an inventory Of wonders and of uncommercial goods. I climb up through the field That my long labor has kept clear. Projects, plans unfulfilled Waylay and snatch at me like briars, For there is no rest here Where ceaseless effort seems to be required, Yet fails, and spirit tires With flesh, because failure And weariness are sure In all that mortal wishing has inspired. I go in pilgrimage Across an old fenced boundary To wildness without age Where, in their long dominion, The trees have been left free. They call the soil here “Eden”; slants and steeps Hard to stand straight upon Even without a burden. No more a perfect garden, There’s an immortal memory that it keeps. I leave work’s daily rule And come here to this restful place Where music stirs the pool And from high stations of the air Fall notes of wordless grace, Strewn remnants of the primal Sabbath’s hymn. And I remember here A tale of evil twined With good, serpent and vine And innocence of evil’s stratagem. I let that go a while, For it is hopeless to correct By generations’ toil, And I let go my hopes and plans That no toil can perfect. There is no vision here but what is seen: White bloom nothing explains. But a mute blessedness Exceeding all distress, The fresh light stained a hundred shades of green. Uproar of wheel and fire That has contained us like a cell Opens and lets us hear A stillness longer than all time Where leaf and song fulfill The passing light, pass with the light, return, Renewed, as in rhyme. This is no human vision Subject to our revision; God’s eye holds every leaf as light is worn. Ruin is in place here: The dead leaves rotting on the ground, The live leaves in the air Are gathered in a single dance That turns them round and round. The fox cub trots his almost pathless path As silent as his absence. These passings resurrect A joy without defect, The life that steps and sings in ways of death.
© Wendell Berry. This poem is excerpted from “The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry” and is reprinted with permission of the author and Counterpoint Press.