In March, the poet, essayist, novelist, cultural critic and farmer Wendell Berry was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Obama. His deep connection to land, place, community and faith combine to form a unique voice in contemporary American letters. My favorite collection of Berry’s is A Timbered Choir: Sabbath Poems 1979-1997, which gathers poems inspired by his weekly Sunday walks through his farm and surrounding land. The hot weather here in NJ and the Easterly emergence of new color and life outside brought Berry to mind.
The poem I’ve selected for this post comes from his 1973 collection The Country of Marriage. It’s called “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front,” and it powerfully criticizes the me-first, materialistic status quo while energizing readers to “every day do something that won’t compute.” I think it has some powerful nuggets that could spark us through the Easter season. And on a personal, gooey note, Gen gave this poem to me back at the very beginning of things, and it was the first of Berry’s I had read. Thanks, Gen.
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.