Of himself, Wendell Berry says, "I am an amateur poet, working for the love of the work." My own reading tends not to poetry but to philosophy, physics, exegesis, and related works in which language serves quite differently. And yet, whether reading Aristotle or Wendell Berry, it is inescapable that words are ultimately only allegories for much larger ideas. Perhaps in poetry this fact is embraced and romanced while in philosophic and scientific work it is ever a 'problem' to be rather embroiled in. Well, I am an amateur critic, but if the poetry in this volume is the work of an "amateur poet" I say why bother with "professional" poetry? If in fact there is such a thing, what more could it offer?
Berry is a farmer, a tender of fields and flocks and fences. Of course he is also a highly regarded poet; a man of soil and art and meditation. In this collection his recurring themes include: The importance of honest labor and the importance of rest and contemplation, "the standing Sabbath of the woods" as he calls it; the nature and passing of time, the connectedness of ourselves to our histories and of matter to spirit. Recurring metaphors of light falling into darkness and light arising from darkness, of life fading into death and of life arising from death, have both material and spiritual meanings. . .
"His passing now has brought him up
Into a place not reached by road,
Beyond all history that he knows,
Where trees like great saints stand in time,
Eternal in their patience. Loss
Has rectified the songs that come
Into this columned room, and he
Only in silence, nothing in hand,
Comes here. A generosity
Is here by which the fallen stand." (1984, p65)
The author invites the reader to consider the verses here a few at a time, in moments of quiet and solitude, of "Sabbath rest," in the same manner in which the verses were created.