Too Tired to Fight Back

Before I went to work this morning I read Jonathon’s comments on “always writing about war,” no matter what we are writing about. For a short while, I thought that I had been re-inspired to comment on the war.

After coming home after working on taxes most of the day and going through physical therapy for my herniated disc, I came home and read the comments on Jonathon’s blog entry. Then I turned to Shelley’s multi-entry, plus comments, on the same topic.

Somehow after reading all the divisive ideas i felt too tired, much too tired, to even bother commenting on the idea.

I can certainly agree with Dave Roger’s opinion that at this point the best thing to hope for all involved is a speedy end to the war. However, as I watched the news tonight with Mabarek’s prediction of a hundred new Bin Laden’s, it was certainly hard not to agree with Jonathon that we are “simply fucked,” no matter how soon we “win” this war.

Not that I disagree with Shelley that if we don’t do something about the Bush administration we will quickly move from this war to our next war with Syria and Iraq, a war that Rumsfeld set the stage for by accusing Iran and Syria of smuggling weapons to Iraq.

Unfortunately, work, my immediate physical ailments, and a sense of physical and moral exhaustion make it difficult for me to do much more than fight off my ISP problems of the last weekend and finally update my links to Jeff Ward, Riley Dog, and By Sand and Sea, as well as add some new links.

Maybe if I didn’t waste so much of my brain power on meaningless poetry, I would be able to discover the solutions to the world’s problems.

Wendell Berry’s A Timbered Choir

Since it’s impossible to entirely ignore the war in the newspaper, on the television, on the net, or even in friends’ blogs, I’ve been working hard to make sure that I devote the rest of my life to more uplifting sources. It’s hard to imagine a writer more uplifting than Wendell Berry. I’ve agreed with almost everything I’ve read by him in the past, and I’ve particularly enjoyed his writings at Orion.

I find little to disagree with in A Timbered Choir: The Sabbeth Poems 1979-1997, though I haven’t found the poems quite as stimulating as I thought they might be judging from poems I’ve previously read.

The book opened auspiciously with a poem that captures my own feelings about venturing into primeval forests:

I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.

Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.

Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.

After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it. As we sing,
the day turns, the trees move.

While I seldom “go among trees and sit still,” preferring a “walking meditation,” I certainly identified with the overall experience described in the poem. He accurately describes three different stages of experiencing wilderness. You begin by feeling a sense of inner “silence” that is difficult to attain in the city. Once you begin to fit in, the squirrels, rabbits, deer, etc. begin to return and accept you as part of the environment. Next, if you’re lucky enough and fade into the background, the higher predators, cougars or bears, will appear out of nowhere. Finally, if you spend enough time alone in the wilderness you begin to find yourself, the ultimate discovery.

“Slowly, slowly, they return…” is the title poem of the book. Although I’ve only experienced evergreens, not deciduous trees, the idea of “a timbered choir” resonates with me. I have a few favorite places that I’ve revisited over the last sixty years where giant firs have gradually begun to reclaim the logged-over areas:

Slowly, slowly, they return
To the small woodland let alone:
Great trees, outspreading and upright,
Apostles of the living light.

Patient as stars, they build in air
Tier after tier a timbered choir,
Stout beams upholding weightless grace
Of song, a blessing on this place.

They stand in waiting all around,
Uprisings of their native ground,
Downcomings of the distant light;
They are the advent they await.

Receiving sun and giving shade,
Their life’s a benefaction made,
And is a benediction said
Over the living and the dead.

In fall their brightened leaves, released,
Fly down the wind, and we are pleased
To walk on radiance, amazed.
0 light come down to earth, be praised!

Personally, I like the phrase “apostles of the living light” since trees reach closer to the sun than any other plant. The image is reinforced in the next stanza by the phrase “timbered choir,” the giant trees singing the praise of Nature. There is something miraculous in the transformation of “sun and giving shade.” Unlike the giant fir trees of the Pacific Northwest, the giant deciduous trees drop a magical carpet of “brightened leaves” in the fall, bringing the sun’s “radiance” down to man’s level.

I must admit that though I share a similar viewpoint of nature, I found Berry’s poems a little too didactic for my taste. I would have preferred poetry that relied more on imagery and less on mere description to convey his ideas. Of course, perhaps this is to be expected from a work with the subtitle: The Sabbath Poems.

Charles Wright’s Appalachia

The last section of Charles Wright’s Negative Blue ties together many of the themes developed in the first two books, recapping his attempts to transcend everyday life. Those of us who ponder our lives, particularly past events, may seem narcissistic to others, perhaps even to ourselves.


It’s all so pitiful, really, the little photographs
Around the room of places I’ve been,
And me in them, the half-read books, the fetishes, this
Tiny arithmetic against the dark undazzle.
Who do we think we’re kidding

Certainly not our selves, those hardy perennials
We take such care of, and feed, who keep on keeping on
Each year, their knotty egos like bulbs
Safe in the damp and dreamy soil of their self-regard.
No way we bamboozle them with these

Shrines to the woebegone, ex votos and reliquary sites
One comes in on one’s knees to,
The country of what was, the country of what we pretended to be,
Cruxes and intersections of all we’d thought was fixed.
There is no guilt like the love of guilt.

Perhaps this poem resonated with me because these are the kinds of things that inspired me to write this blog. Small mementoes of the past may seem downright silly from someone else’s perspective, but Wright shows that this obsession with the past and with life’s little details is not merely an attempt to feed or ego but, rather, an attempt to find the meaning our past.

Wrights contrasts his vision of life’s meaning with the vision of a Buddhist monk:


The Buddhist monk hears all past
and all future in one stroke of the temple bell,
And pries the world out from a pinpoint.
Or grinds it down from immensity to a wheat grain.
Those are his footprints, there by the monastery wall.
This is the life he rejected, written around us-

Incessant rain, slip-stitch vocabulary of winter trees
And winter dreadlocks on half-abandoned garden stalks
Long deconstructed, so
familiar and comforting
We don’t understand a word.
Another February morning at the heart of the world.

The country we live in’s illegible, impossible of access.
We climb, like our deepest selves, out of it forever.
Upward, we think, but who knows.

Are those lights stars or the flametips of hell?
Who knows. We dig in and climb back up.
Wind shear and sleight-of-hand, hard cards, we keep on climbing.

Unlike the monk who can find the past or the future in the stroke of a temple bell, Wright sees man discovering himself in the landscape he lives in. Although at times it may seem that our country is “illegible, impossible of access,” whoever we are emerges from that landscape. Like the Transcendentalists, Wright seems to feel that we can only find our deeper self in Nature.

Perhaps, then, it is appropriate that Wright uses the blue of the sky as a metaphor for God:


I wonder what Spanish poets would say about this,
Bloodless, mid-August meridian,
Afternoon like a sucked-out, transparent insect shell,
Diffused, and tough to the touch.
Something about a labial, probably,
something about the blue.

St. John of the Cross, say, or St. Teresa of Avila.
Or even St. Thomas Aquinas,
Who said, according to some,

"All I have written seems like straw
Compared to what I have seen and what has been revealed to me."
Not Spanish, but close enough,
something about the blue.

Blue, I love you, blue, one of them said once in a different color,
The edged and endless
Expanse of nowhere and nothingness
hemmed as a handkerchief from here,
Cicada shell of hard light
just under it, blue, I love you, blue…

We’ve tried to press God in our hearts the way we’d press a leaf
in a book,
Afternoon memoried now,
sepia into brown,
Night coming on with its white snails and its ghost of the
Spanish poet,
Poet of shadows and death.
Let’s press him firm in our hearts, 0 blue, I love you, blue.

It’s not entirely coincidental, of course, that this volume of poems is called “Negative Blue,” and that the color blue repeatedly appears in Wright’s poems. For instance, in “The Appalachian Book of the Dead V” the lines “Eternity puddles up./And here’s the Overseer, blue, and O he is blue…” Although very few of Wright’s poems touch on God directly, God, like the blue sky, seems to be implied in many of them. God cannot be found in things, but we may well discover Him through our relationship to those things.