I would not have been a poet
except that I have been in love
alive in this mortal world,
or an essayist except that I
have been bewildered and afraid,
or a storyteller had I not heard
stories passing to me through the air,
or a writer at all except
I have been wakeful at night
and words have come to me
out of their deep caves
needing to be remembered.
But on the days I am lucky
or blessed, I am silent.
I go into the one body
that two make in making marriage
that for all our trying, all
our deaf-and-dumb of speech,
has no tongue. Or I give myself
to gravity, light, and air
and am carried back
to solitary work in fields
and woods, where my hands
rest upon a world unnamed,
complete, unanswerable, and final
as our daily bread and meat.
The way of love leads all ways
to life beyond words, silent
and secret. To serve that triumph
I have done all the rest.
“VII” from the poem “1994″ by Wendell Berry, from A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979–1997. © Counterpoint, 1998.
May you find this silence in 2011.
Every year that we get an early snow, this happens: I get low. I feel robbed. Fall is not finished. The Tamarack are still flaxen. The mornings are still bearable without a down parka and boots. I can still take brisk walks on terra firma. The lakes are still fluid and I am too.
And then Mother Nature decides to go as Snow for Halloween. My kids jump with glee and beg me to take them up the ski mountain for their first snowball fight. And I do. But the smile on my face is more the smile of someone looking at a good friend who has to leave town for better work. You know they have to go, but you love them. You will miss them. You are better for having them around. Today was my 18th time feeling this way. Wallace Stevens got it better than I ever could in his poem, “The Snowman.” Every year I re-read his poem, and every year he reminds me that there is much to receive in the “nothingness” of winter. The empty is full.
One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter
Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,
Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.