Wendell Berry: The Good Life Lived

Wendell Berry, born in 1938, is a unique figure in the American landscape. In many ways, he is reminiscent of an older America, where self-reliance did not preclude participation in public life. If he is known as a conservative, it is because he is conserving of community, sustainable farming practices, and the values which are birthed from them. If he is known as an antiwar advocate, and suspicious of corporate biotech and Monsanto-esque GMO promotion and privatization of genetic diversity, it is because of these same dearly-held values. In many ways, he is one of the few in the political sphere who takes his positions based on a firm foundation, and thus is viewed by the small minded as something of a maverick.

Berry began his career as a writer, and to this day continues to produce works of poetry and narrative connected by the themes of local and agrarian existence, and how these have been continually challenged through the many years he has seen. Aside from poetry and nonfiction work for outlets like the New York Times, he also has farmed for many seasons at Lane’s Landing, the same Kentucky farm which inspires much of his poetry.

Berry is important, because he is a living example that the tradition of Buen Vivir addressed in my first post is not isolated to indigenous non-western countries, uncorrupted by industrialism, but exists everywhere, including the rural United States. In order to look to the future of our values, we will have to look to our own ancestors and a lost way of living. This cannot be done through the rosy red lense of romanticism, but with a rational eye searching for values which can serve us well in times to come.

“The gods are less
for their love of praise.
Above and below them all
is a spirit that needs
nothing but its own
its health and ours.
It has made all things
by dividing itself.
It will be whole again.
To its joy we come
together – the seer
and the seen, the eater
and the eaten, the lover
and the loved.
In our joining it knows
itself. It is with us then,
not as the gods
whose names crest
in unearthly fire,
but as a little bird
hidden in the leaves
who sings quietly
and waits
and sings.”

– Wendell Berry

Translation: “It is ourselves, who we have awaited.”

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