Monday, February 6, 2012

song in the year of catastrophe







I began to be followed by a voice saying:
"It can't last.  It can't last.
Harden yourself.  Harden yourself.
Be ready.  Be ready."

"Go look under the leaves,"
it said, "for what is living there
is dead in your tongue."
And it said, "Put your hands
into the earth.  Live close
to the ground. Learn the darkness.
Gather round you all
the things that you love, name
their names, prepare
to lose them,  It will be
as if all you know were turned
around within your body."

And I went and put my hands 
into the ground, and they took root
and grew into a season's harvest.
I looked behind the veil
of the leaves, and heard voices
that I knew had been dead
in my tongue years before my birth.
I learned the dark.

And still the voice stayed with me. 
Waking in the early mornings,
I could hear it, like a bird
bemused among the leaves,
a mockingbird idly singing
in the autumn of catastrophe:
"Be ready.   Be ready.
Harden yourself.  Harden yourself."

And I heard the sound 
of a great engine pounding
in the air, and a voice asking:
"Change or slavery?
Hardship or slavery?"
and the voices answering:
"Slavery!  Slavery!"
And I was afraid, loving 
what I know would be lost.

Then the voice following me said:
"you have not yet come close enough.
Come nearer the ground.  Learn
from the woodcock in the woods
whose feathering is a ritual
of the fallen leaves,
and from the nesting quail
whose speckling makes her hard to see
in the long grass.
Study the coat of the mole.
For the farmer shall wear
the greenery and the furrows
of his fields, and bear
the long standing of the woods."

And I asked: "you mean a death, then?"
"yes," the voice said.  "Die
into what the earth requires of you."
Then let go all holds, and sank
like a hopeless swimmer into the earth,
and at last came fully into the ease
and the joy of that place,
all my lost ones returning.





~ Wendell Berry
from Farming Poems
art by Roderick Maclver





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