Wendell Berry, gardening, and hope.

We have been putting the garden in for the past month – a little at a time, when we can. It is always a hopeful time. The stone frozen ground of winter is soft and damp, and the garden has that clean, neat, almost naive appearance of the newly readied soil and perfect rows. All of this before the slowness of growth, then the chaos of ripening and the glut of harvest.

I have been thinking of Wendell Berry’s poem – “A Man Born to Farming.”

The grower of trees, the gardener, the man born to farming,
whose hands reach into the ground and sprout,
to him the soil is a divine drug. He enters into death
yearly, and comes back rejoicing. He has seen the light lie down
in the dung heap, and rise again in the corn.
His thought passes along the row ends like a mole.
What miraculous seed has he swallowed
that the unending sentence of his love flows out of his mouth
like a vine clinging in the sunlight, and like water
descending in the dark?

(from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry)

This poem has stayed with me since I first read it a few years ago. The line – “He has seen the sun lie down in the dung heap and rise again in the corn” – seemed to me to embody some essential vision – mystical yet utterly earthly.

The line is actually true – the sun becomes something new – it transubstantiates into green leaves and roots. When this dies, it in turn becomes new life yet again.

Life into death into life.

I think I understood this on the physical level but Berry is able to make that truth a truth that one must experience, trust. He holds up the “grower of trees, the gardener, the man born to farming” as one who encounters this mystery, constantly. “He enters into death yearly and comes back rejoicing.” He is in contact with life, but in contact with his eyes open, with understanding of growth and loss, of the consequence of his choices, of the limits of his land and his work, and of the possible joy.

But the work (and the word) of the farmer is love.
“What miraculous seed has he swallowed
that the unending sentence of his love flows out of his mouth
like a vine clinging in the sunlight, and like water
descending in the dark?”

And that love has been planted in him. He sees – with the same wisdom with which he sees the sun and soil – that his life is also gift – pure giveness. He too is the sun, on two feet, working the field and the page. And he too will eventually lie down, with all created things, until he rises as something new. Pitchfork

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