In honor of Wendell Berry: Kentucky Writers’ Hall of Fame

wendell-berry-1 Please don’t tell him, but I love Wendell Berry.  OK, tell him.  Just maybe not his wife. Tonight, he will be the first living inductee into the Kentucky Writers’ Hall of Fame and I will be there.  With bells on and dancing a jig. Wendell Berry is a Kentucky writer, but more than that, a Kentuckian.  He lives on and works the “dark and bloody ground;” he writes about the land and her people.  He celebrates it and mourns it and enjoys it and adores it.  He’s an environmentalist, a novelist, poet, essayist, cultural critic, anti-strip mining, anti-coal activist, philosopher and a Mad Farmer. He has been awarded so many prizes, they must fill an entire room.  The Jefferson Lecture, The National Humanities Lecture, Guggenheim and Rockefeller Fellowships, the Roosevelt Institute’s Freedom Medal . . . and on. Wendell Berry does not merely give lip service to his beliefs; he enforces them by his actions.  In 2010, he pulled his papers from and ended his nearly-lifetime affiliation with the University of Kentucky in protest of the naming of the basketball dorm, “Wildcat Coal Lodge.” Congratulations to Mr. Berry.  In celebration, a few of my favorite of his words.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
I knew her when I saw her
in the vision of Botticell, riding
shoreward out of the waves,
and afterward she was in my mind
as she had been before, but changed,
so that if I saw her here, near
nightfall, striding off the gleam
of the Kentucky River as it darkened
behind her, the willows touching
her with little touches laid
on breast and arm and thigh, I
would rise as after a thousand
years, as out of the dark grave,
alight, shaken, to remember her.
For An Absence
When I cannot be with you
I will send my love (so much
is allowed to human lovers)
to watch over you in the dark —
a winged small presence
who never sleeps, however long
the night.  Perhaps it cannot
protect or help, I do not know,
but it watches always, and so
you will sleep within my love
within the room within the dark.
And when, restless, you wake
and see the room palely lit
by that watching, you will think,
“It is only dawn,” and go
quiet to sleep again.
Parting from you,
rising into the air, I enter again
the absence we came together in.
My ways in house and field
and woods have reached an end,
dismembered of each other
and of me.  And you remain
on the earth we knew, already changing
into the earth you know.
Fire-driven through the air,
I go alone, a part
of what, together, we became.
From Jayber Crow:

“This is a book about Heaven. I know it now. It floats among us like a cloud and is the realest thing we know and the least to be captured, the least to be possessed by anybody for himself. It is like a grain of mustard seed, which you cannot see among the crumbs of earth where it lies. It is like the reflection of the trees on the water.”
     Congratulations Mr. Berry.
UPDATE:  Here’s a link to Tom Eblen’s coverage of the Hall of Fame event.

One thought on “In honor of Wendell Berry: Kentucky Writers’ Hall of Fame

  1. I honor Wendell Berry for many things but especially this line from “Kentucky River Farmer:” ” . . . what must a man do to be at home in the world. . .” Also honored tonight is Elizabeth Hardwick who should be but isn’t in the Henry Clay Hall of Fame. Founder of the New York Review of Book, a preeminent literary critc, HC alumna, her book Seduction and Betrayal: Women in Literature is a must. I never met her, but, on the urging of a HC teacher who did know her, she obtained a full scholarship for a student of mine, Gayl Jones. Gayl, who you may know about, was a wonderful writer with so much promise that her Random House editor was Toni Morrison. Now she is a reclusive, tragic person – but that’s another story. Anyway, I’ve not been able to get the HC Hall of Fame (athletic and business Division lol) to recognize her, or maybe she told them what they could do with themselves. FYI her husband was Robert Lowell,and she didn’t put up with silliness.

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