Sunday, January 25, 2009

Can We Learn How to Live?

I must be drawn to Wendell Berry these days, because I discovered a poem he has written that speaks to me as I enter the year of my 50th birthday:





The question before me, now that I
am old, is not how to be dead,
which I know from enough practice,
but how to be alive, as these worn
hills still tell, and some paintings
of Paul C├ęzanne, and this mere
singing wren, who thinks he's alive
forever, this instant, and may be.

Not that the birds in these photos are all wrens, but redwing blackbirds and sparrows sing too, perhaps more regularly and, thus, less surprisingly than wrens.


It's easy to give up and die. I do it every day--actually, many times each day. But living? I haven't even begun to learn how to do that!

The song of the sparrow is so amazing, so stirring, so memorable. If I could only put one tenth of the living into my many years that the sparrow puts into its minute-long song!
(The poem by Wendell Berry is from Given: New Poems, copyright 2005 by Wendell Berry, published by Shoemaker & Hoard.)

In the deep midwinter ...

... we look to the spring with longing. Here is a poem by Wendell Berry that speaks to me of this midwinter anticipation:



Can I see the buds that are swelling
in the woods on the slopes
on the far side of the valley? I can't,
of course, nor can I see
the twinleafs and anemones
that are blooming over there
bright-scattered above the dead
leaves. But the swelling buds
and little blossoms make
a new softness in the light
that is visible all the way here.
The trees, the hills that were stark
in the old cold become now
tender, and the light changes.


I think Mr. Berry got it just right!


(These are photos from Victoria Glade, a small preserve maintained by The Nature Conservancy, outside of St. Louis, Missouri. The poem by Wendell Berry is from Given: New Poems, copyright 2005 by Wendell Berry, published by Shoemaker Hoard.)