Edit this post

The On Being Project

“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.

Share Your Reflection