Mr. Wendell Berry

Look Out” by Wendell Berry, from Given

Come to the window, look out, and see
the valley turning green in remembrance
of all springs past and to come, the woods
perfecting with immortal patience
the leaves that are the work of all of time,
the sycamore whose white limbs shed
the history of a man’s life with their old bark,
the river quivering under the morning’s breath
like the touched skin of a horse, and you will see
also the shadow cast upon it by fire, the war
that lights its way by burning the earth.

Come to your windows, people of the world,
look out at whatever you see wherever you are,
and you will see dancing upon it that shadow.
You will see that your place, wherever it is,
your house, your garden, your shop, your forest, your farm,
bears the shadow of its destruction by war
which is the economy of greed which is plunder
which is the economy of wrath which is fire.
The Lords of War sell the earth to buy fire,
they sell the water and air of life to buy fire.
They are little men grown great by willingness
to drive whatever exists into its perfect absence.
Their intention to destroy any place is solidly founded
upon their willingness to destroy every place.

Every household of the world is at their mercy,
the households of the farmer and the otter and the owl
are at their mercy. They have no mercy.
Having hate, they can have no mercy.
Their greed is the hatred of mercy.
Their pockets jingle with the small change of the poor.
Their power is the willingness to destroy
everything for knowledge which is money
which is power which is victory
which is ashes sown by the wind.

Leave your windows and go out, people of the world,
go into the streets, go into the fields, go into the woods
and along the streams. Go together, go alone.
Say no to the Lords of War which is Money
which is Fire. Say no by saying yes
to the air, to the earth, to the trees,
yes to the grasses, to the rivers, to the birds
and the animals and every living thing, yes
to the small houses, yes to the children. Yes.

I had the privilege of seeing and hearing Wendell Berry (in an intimate setting with 200 other people and probably 100 who were turned away) last night at the Arlington Central Library. It’s always exciting to see someone who has influenced so many people that he never met. Mr. Berry reminded me a lot of Jean Vanier. He spoke with a slow, southern drawl, and continually exuded a sense of peace and simplicity. Another thing that reminded me of Jean was that Wendell answered questions in his own broad, reflective, way, but very rarely answered a question directly. Of course, one goes to hear someone like Wendell or Jean for the chance to experience their presence and wisdom, not necessarily in order to have specific questions answered.

For me, Wendell Berry represents a sign of hope; not just because of who he is and what he writes about, but because the very fact that his writings resonate so profoundly with so many people suggests that we’re not too far gone. His message is deeply spiritual, deeply Christian; the connection between ecology and theology in his work is as essential as it is unmistakeable.

The irony of cell phones, digital cameras, and the like going off during the talk was too depressing to miss as well.

For better or worse, Mr. Berry didn’t give a presentation or lecture but rather answered questions from a librarian moderator and then from the audience. My own preference would have been for a lecture of some sort so that it had a bit more of a focus. The librarian asked a few questions from The Memory of Old Jack, but they were rather disjointed. Just hearing him was a pleasure, but I would have preferred a different format.

There’s not much else to say except that Wendell Berry is an inspiring man, someone who deserves even more reknown and respect than he has, but also someone who believes so strongly in the small and “leadership from the bottom,” which fits into what I think is a more appropriate understanding of power.


One comment

  1. Pingback: Wendell Berry Essays

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