Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Wednesday Wendell: verses for the fearful

Every once in awhile I wake up in a deeply pessimistic mood (the reasons aren't important). Pessimistic about the world, and myself, for I can't escape the fact that I'm implicated in a lot of what disillusions and frightens me. Wendell Berry has more than once described himself as a fearful and worried man, and his work as an expression of those fears and worries -- he's also a prophet of hope, but I'll leave that for another day. This "Sabbath poem" from 1997 is one of his darkest, but I like it. Especially on days like today.

Even while I dreamed I prayed that what I saw was only fear
and no foretelling,
for I saw the last known landscape destroyed for the sake
of the objective, the soil bludgeoned, the rock blasted.
Those who had wanted to go home would never get there


I visited the offices where for the sake of the objective the

planners planned
at blank desks set in rows. I visited the loud factories
where the machines were made that would drive ever
toward the objective. I saw the forest reduced to stumps and
gullies; I saw
the poisoned river, the mountain cast into the valley;
I came to the city that nobody recognized because it looked
like every other city.
I saw the passages worn by the unnumbered
footfalls of those whose eyes were fixed upon the objective.

Their passing had obliterated the graves and the
of those who had died in pursuit of the objective
and who had long ago forever been forgotten, according
to the inevitable rule that those who have forgotten forget
that they have forgotten. Men, women, and children now
pursued the objective
as if nobody ever had pursued it before.

The races and the sexes now intermingled perfectly in
pursuit of the objective.
The once-enslaved, the once-oppressed were now free
to sell themselves to the highest bidder
and to enter the best paying prisons
in pursuit of the objective, which was the destruction of all
which was the destruction of all obstacles, which was the
destruction of all objects,
which was to clear the way to victory, which was to clear the
way to promotion, to salvation, to progress,
to the completed sale, to the signature
on the contract, which was to clear the way
to self-realization, to self-creation, from which nobody who
ever wanted to go home
would ever get there now, for every remembered place
had been displaced; the signposts had been bent to the
ground and covered over.

Every place had been displaced, every love
unloved, every vow unsworn, every word unmeant
to make way for the passage of the crowd
of the individuated, the autonomous, the self-actuated,
the homeless
with their many eyes opened toward the objective
which they did not yet perceive in the far distance,
having never known where they were going,
having never known where they came from.

II (1997) - from A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997 (Counterpoint, 1998)

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