Thursday, April 7, 2011

I go among trees




I Go Among Trees
 
I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places where I left them, asleep like cattle.
Then what is afraid of me comes, and lives awhile in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me, and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings and I hear its song.
Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings and I hear its song.
After days of labor, mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last, and I sing it.
As we sing, the day turns, the leaves move.

Wendell Berry 

I sat opposite Wendell Berry, and his wife Tanya, one day at breakfast. It was a conference, the first Temenos conference, and I did not know who he was, excepting that he was one of the speakers - both giving a lecture and a poetry reading.  

I was then (as so often now) in meeting new people, shy, we exchanged pleasantries, forgotten, forgettable though I always recall his sense of rootedness, like a tree, taking nourishment from his place on earth, and sharing it and the great good sense and humour of Tanya, a woman who would take no prisoners. 

I listened to the lecture: electrified. Here was a man speaking sense, beautifully, about the culture that sustains a continuing life on earth and nourishes soul. I bought a collection of his essays - and remember the first I read about a journey to Peru and the significance of potatoes: the diversity of their kinds, how that diversity is rooted both in ecological niche and cultural adaptability; and, how traditional agriculture effective is threatened by the promised efficiency of the new - immediate gain that will disguise vulnerability to future loss.

The poetry reading sealed it. 

This was a man to listen to, and learn from. I have been reading him ever since. 

The shyness has not departed. We met again at the poet, Kathleen Raine's, memorial service, at which he had given a moving address. Again I missed my cue, it was too late at the reception afterward, and there was time only for the renewed exchange of forgettable pleasantries. 

But there is the work: essays, novels, short stories and poems. The poem above is my favourite, one from a continuing series, Sabbaths, when the poet, hearing the church bells, walks contrarily, and steps into nature and its lessons,  a man given to the possibilities of transcendence, indeed Christ, but wary of Church, and a religion inclined to extract us from rootedness in place.

Its resonance is so clear to me - the place one goes to hear one's song is the reality of nature and attentiveness, inward and outward.

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