Sep 22 2008

Wendell Berry – Testament

Published by at 8:55 am under Ivan's Story,Poetry

by Wendell Berry

And now to the Abyss I pass
Of that Unfathomable Grass…

Dear relatives and friends, when my last breath
Grows large and free in air, don’t call it death —
A word to enrich the undertaker and inspire
His surly art of imitating life; conspire
Against him. Say that my body cannot now
Be improved upon; it has no fault to show
To the sly cosmetician. Say that my flesh
Has a perfect compliance with the grass
Truer than any it could have striven for.
You will recognize the earth in me, as before
I wished to know it in myself: my earth
That has been my care and faithful charge from birth,
And toward which all my sorrows were surely bound,
And all my hopes. Say that I have found
A good solution, and am on my way
To the roots. And say I have left my native clay
At last, to be a traveler; that too will be so.
Traveler to where? Say you don’t know.

But do not let your ignorance
Of my spirit’s whereabouts dismay
You, or overwhelm your thoughts.
Be careful not to say

Anything too final. Whatever
Is unsure is possible, and life is bigger
Than flesh. Beyond reach of thought
Let imagination figure

Your hope. That will be generous
To me and to yourselves. Why settle
For some know-it-all’s despair
When the dead may dance to the fiddle

Hereafter, for all anybody knows?
And remember that the Heavenly soil
Need not be too rich to please
One who was happy in Port Royal.

I may be already heading back,
A new and better man, toward
That town. The thought’s unreasonable,
But so is life, thank the Lord!

So treat me, even dead,
As a man who has a place
To go, and something to do.
Don’t muck up my face

With wax and powder and rouge
As one would prettify
An unalterable fact
To give bitterness the lie.

Admit the native earth
My body is and will be,
Admit its freedom and
Its changeability.

Dress me in the clothes
I wore in the day’s round.
Lay me in a wooden box.
Put the box in the ground.

Beneath this stone a Berry is planted
In his home land, as he wanted.

He has come to the gathering of his kin,
Among whom some were worthy men,

Farmers mostly, who lived by hand,
But one was a cobbler from Ireland,

Another played the eternal fool
By riding on a circus mule

To be remembered in grateful laughter
Longer than the rest. After

Doing that they had to do
They are at ease here. Let all of you

Who yet for pain find force and voice
Look on their peace, and rejoice.

/ Photo by Nicholas_T /

I dedicate today’s poem to my father, Steven Charles Granger. He died late last week. I got word over the weekend that he passed away in his sleep in Varna, along the Black Sea of Bulgaria, where he had retired.

My father was a poet, an artist, and a teacher. Although he was born and raised in America, he lived much of his life as an expatriate, taking teaching jobs in universities all over the world, including in Iran before the revolution in the late 1970s and more recently in Saudi Arabia for several years.

My parents divorced when I was quite young, and with his travels, my father was in some ways a stranger to me — but many sons can say that of their fathers. We also had our personality clashes; there was even a period of a few years when we didn’t speak with each other, but that rift was finally healed several years ago.

So much shared history of distances and misunderstandings, with surprising connections, mutual recognition, and moments of pure delight. When I peer through all that and simply see the man, not even my father, but just the man, I can honestly say I see a good man. And I see a man who felt a deep love for his three children. I’m not sure everyone can say that, and so I was blessed to call him my father.

When a parent passes– who then wears the mask of father or mother? This is part of the grief of losing a parent, the loss not only of the person, but of the archetype. That energy passes back to us, it becomes internal to us. That’s the final challenge and blessing they leave us with, to integrate into ourselves what they represented to us. What they gave us, we must become.

In addition to needing some time to honor my father, I also have a full work week coming up, so I will put the poetry emails on hold for the rest of the week. Let’s resume the poetry emails next Monday.

This week take some time to appreciate the golds and russets and brisk air of autumn; and for those south of the equator, celebrate the new life of spring!

And may we say of all our loved ones who have passed on that they have found a good solution and are on their way to the roots….

More poetry by Wendell Berry

19 responses so far

19 Responses to “Wendell Berry – Testament”

  1. patrickon 22 Sep 2008 at 2:30 am

    Bless you and your family on your fathers passing, bless Wendell Berry for putting it into words,bless you for taking the time and faith to share this with us.Blessings Baraka Boons all around

  2. smwaterson 22 Sep 2008 at 6:31 am

    While it is true that death comes to us all, it is still the great mystery. It was ten years ago this week that we celebrated my fathers 66th birthday before he passed away from cancer a few weeks later. I was thinking of my father early today and then I opened my email and read your blog. Your question of who wears the archetypal mask when a father or mother passes is a profound one. Over the past ten years of my father's absence I have had to put that mask on but there are times when I look for someone with that mask to assuage my fears — it hurts when I find no one to wear the mask for me. At those times I am in the dark woods, alone, on a path I make with my own feet. But that path, while difficult to pioneer, is my path. I know my father would be pleased in seeing the path I have made, even when the path has been made in the darkness.

    Thank you for sharing your loss … our thoughts are with you.

  3. Beth Kimmelon 22 Sep 2008 at 9:59 am

    I’m so sorry to hear of your father’s passing, Ivan, and so honored to share in the poem you posted.
    When my own father passed, he wanted this poem by Robert Frost read, just as my father read it at his own brother’s funeral:

    Out through the fields and the woods,
    And over the walls I have wended.
    I have climbed the hills of view,
    And looked at the world, and descended.
    I have come by the highway home,
    and lo, it is ended.
    The leaves are all dead on the ground,
    Save those that the oak is keeping
    To ravel them one by one
    And let them go scraping and creeping
    Out over the crusted snow when other’s are sleeping.
    The dead leaves lie huddled and still,
    No longer blown hither and thither.
    The last lone astor is gone,
    The flower of the witch hazel withers.
    The heart is still aching to seek,
    But the feet question: whither?
    Ah when to the heart of a man
    Was it ever less than a treason
    To go with the drift of things
    To yield with a grace to reason,
    And bow, and accept the end of a love,
    or a season?

    The first stanza is on his headstone. I typed from memory, sorry for mistakes. Blessings to you and yours, Ivan, and may your father find peace in Bardo.

    Beth Kimmel

  4. Robiaon 22 Sep 2008 at 10:00 am

    I will look forward to next Monday after you have given yourself the time needed to say your goodbye’s for now. I also understand the need for this even thou there is a separation of time and distance with a parental unit, there is a need to morn their passing to the other side of the veil. Peace be yours.

  5. Sam /Zahidon 22 Sep 2008 at 10:13 am

    Dear Ivan –

    I can both relate to the poem and the ‘testament’ that parents and children share.
    Processing still my parents passing, the seasons seem to help me to accept these big and
    constantly trying links to the mystery of existence. Check into a book by Sharon Olds entitled Fathers. BE WELL.

  6. Catherineon 22 Sep 2008 at 11:05 am

    Dear Ivan,

    I am grateful to you for sharing the story of your father with us. I would love to hear more about him and about your relationship with him.

    Many blessings to you and your family.

  7. Glenda Fieldson 22 Sep 2008 at 11:29 am

    So many of us today are gaining perspectives and insights from our parents after their death. The discords, lack of honor or respect, we may have at times felt for them while they were alive, become the mirrors into ourselves for years to come. Who are we as the results of them?
    A wise saint once said, our parents are sent to teach us the opposite lessons of who they represent to us. If they are loving, we must learn to channel that love to the Heavenly Father, We learn this by learning detachment from our mother and father. If they are unloving, our lesson is to find that love within ourselves and live that love. In either case, we have much to be grateful for in our parents. Whatever role they play, most likely, they have done/are doing their jobs very well. If we willingly look into the mirror, we too are doing ours.
    Ivan you are always an inspiration. Thank you for sharing this most intimate time and your personal growth during this time with us.
    Best Wishes,

  8. carrieon 22 Sep 2008 at 2:01 pm

    I so appreciate this poem and your sharing of what is so real and personal. I feel honored to receive this. I too have lost both parents and have pondered much about the journey with grief and life without their physical presence. Today as this poem arrived I am preparing to support a dear friend who is very ill with cancer and will begin her bone marrow transplant tomorrow. So this is a gift as I walk that edge between life and death with a dear one.
    May you take good care in this time and allow much room for the grief. In gratitude, Carrie

  9. phil fosteron 22 Sep 2008 at 2:43 pm

    Ivan – So sorry for your loss. It was my experience when my father died that he not only left me alone with the Father archetype, but he also left me gifts.

    Also, the poems of Juan Ramon Jimenez (“I Am Not I”) and Barry’s own “Ripening” come to mind. Be good to you. Peace,

  10. Paulaon 22 Sep 2008 at 4:14 pm

    Hi Ivan
    In this sad moment of your life i can only send you this:
    I don’t know how to write poems or beautiful phrases as yours, but I know what is losing a Father.
    Despite all the absences and discord is always good to hear our voice saying: This is/was my Father! To could say loud for the whole world can hear us: My Father! Be proud of him!
    Thank you for sharing your story, which from now on, it is our history to! And we’re very proud of her.
    It’s one of the best gift that someone can ask for!!!
    Be good and nice to you!!!
    All my care for you.

  11. Emily Simpsonon 22 Sep 2008 at 4:34 pm

    My father died a couple of months ago. I found that friends around me began to assume the qualities he was shedding, as his body withered and spirit blossomed. The mask kept moving until I claimed it.

    No matter what age or stage we are at, the loss of a parent creates an entirely new landscape to navigate. Death truly is another country…

    So, I send you all my love and courage for the road ahead.


  12. Susanon 22 Sep 2008 at 6:28 pm

    Hello, Ivan –

    Friend I have not met, and, as a recent subscriber, am now beginning to know.

    Blessings to you as you honor the passing of your father … with Wendell Berry’s beautiful poem … and with your taking a break this week to not send any more poetry … in honor of your father … and of yourself.

    My son and I are on our way this week to honor one of his grandfathers … my father in law … a man also passing on his energy this week … and surely in all the days to come.

    Peace and radiant blessings to you, and all, as this new season begins ~ Susan

  13. Paulineon 22 Sep 2008 at 6:44 pm


    So sorry for your loss. Thank you for the beautiful poems. You do us a great service.

  14. salamon 22 Sep 2008 at 8:52 pm

    My dear Ivan,
    I do not know ,i have no words.If i speak the social, worldly language then is the loss,which will be difficult to fill.
    My mother passed away a few months back.I buried her,sat next to her new home,weeping……..Now
    I know ,she has come more close to me,
    For many years i thought she is here, she is there, living with my sisters & at different places, but now i know,she is here, right in my heart.The place she belongs.
    I do not miss her any more,i close my eyes, see her smiling face,so close that i can even feel her breath, smell that special fragrance, i am used to of, from my child hood.
    For us,to whom the spirit is the reality,nothing dies.
    Change is the name of the way but not the END.
    I pray for him and you to get the union,stronger than the past.

  15. kim shams richardsonon 23 Sep 2008 at 12:43 am

    “And may we say of all our loved ones who have passed on that they have found a good solution and are on their way to the roots….”

    Amen to that, and to:
    “Look on their peace, and rejoice.”

    Peace and blessings on you, Ivan, and condolences on the passing on of your father. It is a milestone in our lives. May I share with you the Burial Suras and Sermon from the Universal Worship of Hazrat Inayat Khan? The words have great beauty.

    Death takes away the weariness of life, and the soul begins life anew. Death is a sleep from which the soul wakes in the hereafter. Death is the crucifixion, after which follows the resurrection. Death is the night after which the day begins. It is death which dies, not life. The life everlasting is hidden in the heart of death.

    Mourn not over the death of the beloved, call not back the traveller who is on his/her journey towards his/her goal; for you know not what he/she seeks! You are on the earth, but now he/she is in heaven. By weeping for the dead you will make sad the soul who cannot return to earth; by wishing to communicate with him/her, you do but distress him/her. He/She is happy in the place at which he/she has arrived; by wanting to go to him/her you do not help him/her; your life’s purpose still keeps you on earth. No creature that has ever been born has belonged in reality to any other; every soul is the beloved of God. Does God not love as we human being cannot? Death, therefore, does but unite a person with God. For to Whom does the soul in truth belong? To God in the end is its return, sooner or later. Verily, death is a veil behind which is hidden life which is beyond the comprehension of the people on earth. If you knew the freedom of that world, and how the sad hearts are unburdened of their load; if you knew how the sick are cured, how the wounded are healed, and what freedom the soul experiences as it goes further from this earthly life of limitations, you would no more mourn those who have passed, but pray for their happiness in their further journey and for the peace of their souls.

    and the Blessing Prayer…
    ‘Heal his/her spirit, Lord, from all the wounds that his/her heart
    has suffered through this life limitation upon the earth. Purify
    his/her heart with Thy Divine Light and send upon his/her spirit
    Thy Mercy, Thy Compassion, and Thy Peace. Amen.

  16. J.T. Brown, IIIon 23 Sep 2008 at 12:52 am

    Sending many thanks and blessings to you, Ivan (especially at this time of your father’s passing)!

    Your gift of Poetry Chaikhana is most sacred. Your commentary is steeped in wisdom and love, and is a true spiritual inspiration.

    You feel like a dear friend from the sacred past! I hope you are experiencing improved health and well being.

    Cheers, -JT

  17. Rose Cookon 23 Sep 2008 at 9:35 am

    love to you and your family…take your time…grief can be surprising and is sad loving, Rose

  18. Barbaraon 24 Sep 2008 at 4:30 am

    Ivan, I’ll keep you in special prayer this week as you take time to honor your father. Thank you so much for sharing this poem as well as your own story. I truly am grateful for all you share with us – so many of us – hungering for union with Love. You are very special indeed, Ivan, and your Ministry is certainly being blessed.

  19. Sunil Uniyalon 24 Sep 2008 at 9:29 am

    My dear Ivan, my prayers are with you in these moments of grief. I condole your dad’s passing away. May his soul rest in Eternal Peace….Sometime back I had attended the last rites of a close aquantaince, and many days later a poem emerged in my mind, which I want to share with you here:

    And Finally …

    that day will come
    when you’ll be buried
    or to flames consigned

    but who buries or who burns
    strangers or the dear ones
    you won’t know

    you won’t see them
    you won’t hear them
    your own way you’ll go

    Yes, Ivan, one chalks out one’s own path in life and goes one’s own way.
    Regards and Love,

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