Wendell Berry’s Sabbath Poems: “A Timbered Choir”

This is a fantastic collection of Wendell Berry’s “Sabbath Poems,” poems which he wrote out in the woods during his Sunday morning walks (1979-1997). In his preface, Berry says these poems “were written in silence, in solitude, mainly out doors.” Therefore the reader “will like them best … who reads them in similar circumstances—at least in a quiet room” and “slowly, … with more patience than effort” (xvii.)

Here’s a sampling and some of my favorites on trees, the changing of seasons, marital intimacy, and life. Enjoy!

934768-l“We long for what can be fulfilled in time,
Though death is in the cost. There is craving
As in delayed completion of a rhyme.” – p. 20

* * * * *

“What hard travail God does in death!
He strives in sleep, in our despair,
And all flesh shudders underneath
The nightmare of His sepulcher.

“The earth shakes, grinding its deep stone;
All night the cold wind heaves and pries;
Creation strains sinew and bone
Against the dark door where He lies.

“The stem bent, pent in seed, grows straight
And stands. Pain breaks in song. Surprising
The merely dead, graves fill with light
Like opened eyes. He rests in rising.” – p. 25

* * * * *

“In history many-named, in time
Nameless, this amplitude conveys
The answering to the asking rhyme
Among confusions that dispraise

“The membering name that Adam spoke
By gift, and then heard parceled out
Among all fallen things that croak
And cry and sin and curse and shout.” – pp. 65-66

* * * * *

“And now the remnant groves grow bright with praise
They light around me like an old man’s days.” – p. 93

* * * * *

“The seed is in the ground.
Now may we rest in hope
While darkness does its work.” – p. 131

* * * * *

“Loving you has taught me the infinite
longing of the self to be given away
and the great difficulty of that entire
giving, for in love to give is to receive
and then there is yet more to give;
and others have been born of our giving
to whom the self, greatened by gifts,
must be given, and by that giving
be increased, until, self-burdened,
the self, staggering upward in years,
in fear, hope, love, and sorrow,
imagines, rising like a moon,
a pale moon risen in daylight
over the dark words, the Self
whose gift we and all others are,
the self that is by definition given.” – p. 149

* * * * *

“Now come the bride and groom,
Now come the man and woman
Who must begin again
The work divine and human
By which we live on earth.” – p. 153

* * * * *

“Now, surely, I am getting old,
for my memory of myself
as a young man seems now
to be complete, as a story told.
The young man leaps, and lands
on an old man’s legs.” – p. 169

* * * * *

“I would not have been a poet
except that I have been in love
alive in this mortal world…” – p. 182

* * * * *

“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…” – p. 182

* * * * *

“Best of any song
is bird song
in the quiet, but first
you must have the quiet.” – p. 207

* * * * *

“The lovers know the loveliness
That is not of their bodies only
(Though they be lovely) but is of
Their bodies given up to love.

“They find the open-heartedness
Of two desires which both are lonely
Until by dying they have their living,
And gain all they have lost in giving,

“Each offering the desired desire.
Beyond what time requires, they are
What they surpass themselves to make;
They give the pleasure that they take.” – p. 213

* * * * *

“There is a day
when the road neither
comes nor goes, and the way
is not a way but a place.” – p. 216


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