poem VI, from ‘Leavings’ by Wendell Berry




VI

O saints, if I am even eligible for this prayer,
though less than worthy of this dear desire,
and if your prayers have influence in Heaven,
let my place there be lower than your own.
I know how you longed, here where you lived
as exiles, for the presence of the essential
Being and Maker and Knower of all things.
But because of my unruliness, or some erring
virtue in me never rightly schooled,
some error clear and dear, my life
has not taught me your desire for flight:
dismattered, pure, and free. I long
instead for the Heaven of creatures, of seasons,
of day and night. Heaven enough for me
would be this world as I know it, but redeemed
of our abuse of it and one another. It would be
the Heaven of knowing again. There is no marrying
in Heaven, and I submit; even so, I would like
to know my wife again, both of us young again,
and I remembering always how I loved her
when she was old. I would like to know
my children again, all my family, all my dear ones,
to see, to hear, to hold, more carefully
than before, to study them lingeringly as one
studies old verses, committing them to heart
forever. I would like again to know my friends,
my old companions, men and women, horses
and dogs, in all the ages of our lives, here
in this place that I have watched over all my life
in all its moods and seasons, never enough.
I will be leaving how many beauties overlooked?
A painful Heaven this would be, for I would know
by it how far I have fallen short. I have not
paid enough attention, I have not been grateful
enough. And yet this pain would be the measure
of my love. In eternity’s once and now, pain would
place me surely in the Heaven of my earthly love.

— Wendell Berry, from ‘Leavings’


This is the wonderful poem that was read before this year’s Jefferson Lecture at the National Endowment for the Humanities by Wendell Berry. I first read the text of his lecture and then watched a video of it. It is remarkable. Berry is the prophet of our time. He warms my heart and chills my spine at the same time.

Text of “It All Turns on Affection”



poem 314 (“Hope is the thing with feathers”) by Emily Dickenson



“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

— Emily Dickenson



and we’re off

First day of school:

six classes, all with friendly, bright, decent kids
good, trustworthy colleagues all around
no big mistakes yet to have to overcome
encouraged but still really tired

I’m lucky to get to teach and especially to get to teach at Willard. It also doesn’t hurt that I’m teaching the best kids in the school. What’s crazy is how hard it still feels to do this even though I have nearly everything lined up in my favor. I can’t imagine what so many teachers feel like with the conditions they work under.

My prayer is that all of us in the school biz remember what a privilege it is to be a part of our students’ lives, have resilience when the inevitable bumps (or worse) occur, and pause in the busyness (at best) or chaos (at worst) to recognize the perfect moment when it occurs (à la Spalding Gray). Grace and Peace.

A Self-Made Man Looks At How He Made It — John Scalzi from his blog, ‘Whatever’

Here’s a tonic for our times — “A Self-Made Man Looks At How He Made It” by writer and blogger John Scalzi. I think we will return to this way of looking at our lives — eventually — but only after our culture’s arrogance and narcissism has driven us into the ditch.

She called up the Webb School of California, and found out it cost more to attend than she made in a year. But she was convinced it was the right place. I went and took the entrance test and had my interview with a teacher there, named Steve Patterson. I don’t remember what it was I said during the interview; I have almost no memory of that interview at all. But I was told years later by another teacher that Steve Patterson said that day to the Webb admissions people that if there were only one child who was admitted to Webb that year, it should be me.

[via boing boing]

The Day of Gifts — a poem by Paul Claudel (read by Tom O’Bedlam)




A beautiful poem beautifully read. Via 3quarksdaily (3QD).




The Day of Gifts

It’s not true that Your saints have won everything: they left me with sins enough.
Someday I’ll lie on my deathbed, Lord, ill-shaven and yellow as a lifelong drunk.
And I’ll make a general examination of myself, looking back over all my days,
And I’ll see that I’m rich after all, ripe and rich with evil in its unnumbered paths and ways.
I haven’t lost one single chance, Lord, to make matter for You to pardon.
Now I hearten myself with vice, having long ago sloughed off virtue’s burden.
Each day has its own kind of crime, plain to see, and I count them like some paranoid miser.

If what you need, Lord, are virgins, if what you need are brave men beneath your standard;
If there are people for whom to be Christian words alone would not suffice,
But who know rather that only in stirring themselves to chase after You is there any life,
Well then there’s Dominic and Francis, Saint Lawrence and Saint Cecilia and plenty more!
But if by chance You should have need of a lazy and imbecilic bore,
If a prideful coward could prove useful to You, or perhaps a soiled ingrate,
Or the sort of man whose hard heart shows up in a hard face—
Well, anyway, You didn’t come to save the just but that other type that abounds,
And if, miraculously, You run out of them elsewhere . . . Lord, I’m still around.

And what kind of a man is so crude that he hasn’t held a little something back from You,
Hasn’t in his free time fashioned something special for You,
Hoping that one day the idea will come to You to ask it of him,
And maybe this little that he’s made himself, kept back until then, though horrid and tortuous, will please Your whim.
It would be something that he’d put his whole heart into, something useless and malformed.
Just like that my little daughter once, on my birthday, teetered forward with encumbered arms
And offered me, her heart at once full of timidity and pride,
A magnificent little duck she had made with her own two hands, a pincushion, made of red wool and gold thread.

by Paul Claudel Paul Claudel (translated from the French by Jonathan Monroe Geltner)


The Mad Farmer Liberation Front: a poem by Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go.

Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

— Wendell Berry (The Country of Marriage)

A little Trinitarian awesomeness by my 5-year-old daughter





Today, I was strolling with my recently-turned five-year-old daughter, Sofie, when she said, “You know the three big giant boys on the clouds?.” “No, not really,” I replied. She said, “You know, Jesus, God and that other one — I can’t remember his name…”

Careful Southern Baptist Sunday School indoctrination meets wry and subversive five-year-old. Look out.

Sabbath Poem VII– by Wendell Berry






Sabbath Poem VII

The clearing rests in song and shade.

It is a creature made

By old light held in soil and leaf,

By human joy and grief,

By human work,

Fidelity of sight and stroke,

By rain, by water on

The parent stone.

We join our work to Heaven’s gift,

Our hope to what is left,

That field and woods at last agree

In an economy

Of widest worth.

High Heaven’s Kingdom come on earth.

Imagine Paradise.

O Dust, arise!



— Wendell Berry (1982)