Monday, May 14, 2007

Given Poems by Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry is one of my favorite poets. If you want to read a book of poems featuring no meter or rhyme, pick up a book by Rod McKuen, but don't pick up this book! If you want a sentimental, amateurish approach to poetry--you'd be better off buying a greeting card. If Edgar Guest is your idea of a great poet, you might want to pass over Wendell Berry! If, however, you are a fan of Frost, Eliot, or Whitman--you'll want to read Berry!

Wendell Berry has been writing poetry for fifty years. He has written over forty books of poetry, fiction and essays. He holds a Masters Degree in English and has taught English and Creative writing in New York. He now farms the land that has stayed in his family for generations.

I find Berry's work reminiscent of Robert Frost, but more in tonal quality and spirit than in style. Berry is no imitation: his voice is quite his own. He is a recipient of several awards including the T. S. Eliot Award, Aiken Taylor Award, Jean Stein Award, and Rockefeller Fellowships.

Here's a sample from Given Poems:

In Heaven the starry saints will wipe away
The tears forever from our eyes, but they
Must not erase the memory of our grief.
In bliss, even, there can be no relief
If we forget this place, shade-haunted, parched
Or flooded, dark or bright, where we have watched
The world always becoming what it is,
Splendor and woe surpassing happiness
Or sorrow, loss sweeping it as a floor.
This shadowed passage between door and door
Is half-lit by old words we've heard or read.
As the living recall the dead, the dead
Are joyless until they call back their lives:
Fallen like leaves, the husbands and the wives
In history's ignorant, bloody to-and-fro,
Eternally in love, and in time learning so.

Not all of his poems are rhymed. He has written some wonderful blank verse as well. If you haven't read poetry in a while, pick up one of Wendell's collections. You will find a warm welcome back to good poetry!

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