Career Calling

September 25, 2011

Sabbath, September 25, 2011

Filed under: Sabbath — claycerny @ 11:58 pm
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[On Sundays, Career Calling explores intersections of work & life in “Sabbath.”]

Wendell Berry – Again

The Kentucky poet inspired this Sunday feature.  Over several years, Berry wrote Sabbath poems that reflect his (and our) spiritual connection not just to the land, but also to the cycles of nature.  In the fourth Sabbath poem written in 1984, he address this bittersweet time of year: “The summer ends, and it is time/To face another way.” 

The poem recognizes the need to store for the cold that is to come, the need to prepare the land for next year when the cycle begins again. Berry casts the poem in the scene of a couple: “You do not speak, and I regret/This downfall of the good we sought/As though the fault were mine.”  Unlike Robert Frost’s great poems “Death of a Hired Man” and “Home Burial,” which both focus on a dialogue between a husband and a wife, the actors here are vague.  One is clearly working the land on a plow.  The other, though, could be human or a personification of the season, an ambiguity that enriches the feeling.

The poem’s last lines describes the plow turning stems into the dark earth “From which they may return.”  But the last sentence is more plaintive, almost final, “At work,/I see you leaving our bright land,/the last cut flowers in your hand.”  This powerful image could be a lover, a son, or just summer, giving way to the dark, cold, flowerless time to come, a Sabbath reflection on what was, is and will be. 

Berry’s genius as a poet is to use simple language and images to capture the profound.  His poems and prose never lose the reader in a way that requires explanation or an expert. Berry follows Wordsworth’s poetic path of a “man speaking to men.”  He touches us – like the last days of summer.