Nov 05 2010

Wendell Barry – Sabbaths 1985, V

Published by at 9:10 am under Poetry

Sabbaths 1985, V
by Wendell Berry

How long does it take to make the woods?
As long as it takes to make the world.
The woods is present as the world is, the presence
of all its past and of all its time to come.
It is always finished, it is always being made, the act
of its making forever greater than the act of its destruction.
It is a part of eternity for its end and beginning
belong to the end and beginning of all things,
the beginning lost in the end, the end in the beginning.

What is the way to the woods, how do you go there?
By climbing up through the six days’ field,
kept in all the body’s years, the body’s
sorrow, weariness, and joy. By passing through
the narrow gate on the far side of that field
where the pasture grass of the body’s life gives way
to the high, original standing of the trees.
By coming into the shadow, the shadow
of the grace of the strait way’s ending,
the shadow of the mercy of light.

Why must the gate be narrow?
Because you cannot pass beyond it burdened.
To come into the woods you must leave behind
the six days’ world, all of it, all of its plans and hopes.
You must come without weapon or tool, alone,
expecting nothing, remembering nothing,
into the ease of sight, the brotherhood of eye and leaf.

— from A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997, by Wendell Berry

/ Photo by mindfulness /

Something so healing, so earthly — in the most sanctified sense — in this Sabbath meditation by Wendell Berry.

His phrases of the “six days’ world” and the “six day’s field” are references to how we see the world and interact with the world on all the other days of the week, the non-Sabbath days. In the “six days’ world” we work, we do, we accomplish, we acquire. Often it is a world of control and burdens, “plans and hopes.” It is a world of objects and tools to manipulate those objects. Too often it is a world of domination and separation.

An essential reason for the Sabbath is to remind us that that “six days’ world” is not the real world nor is it the whole world, it is only one way of interacting with the world. When we take a true day of rest, and enter a majestic space not made by men — like the ancient, silent woods — we remember that we participate in a larger life, eternal, eternally recycling itself. We are reminded that there is a wholeness to the world we live in, something we can’t segment and sell without harm to ourselves. The Sabbath, the woods, the wilds, these remind us of the sacred, whole, eternal spaces within the human spirit. In true rest and quiet awe, we return to ourselves.


I want to wish a joyous Diwali / Deepavali — the Festival of Lights — to all my friends in India!


And also a genuine thank you from my heart for the many wonderful emails and blog comments I received after Tuesday’s email. I was so touched by the stories you shared of spiritual exploration and the significant books you encountered along the way.

In another couple of weeks, I will send out a further list of holiday book recommendations that focus on poetry.

Blessings, and have a wonderful weekend!

Wendell Berry, Wendell Berry poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Wendell Berry

US (1934 – )
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Wendell Berry

7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Wendell Barry – Sabbaths 1985, V”

  1. Shannon Sullivanon 05 Nov 2010 at 2:19 pm

    Hi Ivan,

    Thank you for the beautiful poem. The first time I read it, I also saw the road as the journey through life and the seventh day of rest passing through the gate was mortal death and having to pass through without our burdens back home into the oneness of Universe and God, which of course, is represented in our natural world of trees and Mother Earth.

    Thank you for sharing this poem with us 😉

  2. franon 05 Nov 2010 at 9:02 pm

    So much to appreciate about this poem, I especially felt healing or a long query soothed by the image of being able to enter the narrow passage , gate without burden…it is really so comforting to feel cared for or compassion on to me instead of a narrow passage being restrictive..much thanks

  3. Carrie Catswoldon 06 Nov 2010 at 1:15 am

    Thank you Ivan, for the time invested in the Poetry Chaikhana.
    I look forward to receiving each new poem. The interfaith basis is particularly gratifying.
    My first reaction on reading this poem was identical to Shannon’s – I saw it as the blissful end to a life’s struggle. But your explanation showed another insight. This is why I particularly like the analysis we receive from you at the end of each new poem.
    Many thanks,again – and keep up the good work.

  4. Ivan M. Grangeron 06 Nov 2010 at 9:11 am

    Shannon and Carrie-
    I agree with you both. You can definitely read many of Wendell Berry’s Sabbath poems as being about the rest of peaceful, well-earned mortality. Or at least that is one shade of meaning I see there too. I’m not really sure why I didn’t bring that up in my own notes. Just wasn’t where my focus was on Friday, I suppose.
    Your comments inspired me to write down some of my thoughts on how we recognize meaning in poetry…

  5. simonbaghon 07 Nov 2010 at 4:27 am

    Hi Ivan,

    way to eternity is through the green garden
    mistakenly you find way to desert afar Eden

    first leave desert of mind for real green wood
    stand on start line strongly on your own foot

    the whole process you follow as racing trend
    like ball in match net of goal you are to rend

    try not to spot beginning or end on life circle
    watch it rotate and believe that it is miracle

    you too turn with the circle but within its ring
    out of the ring you must wear thy dream wing

    permission for thy mind to wing to dreamland,
    is issued long before and it is always at hand

    that is to you to sail in yours innermost ocean
    in quest of answer for the ever asked question

    to be or not to be is out of your determination
    both cases are miraculous gifts by destination

    not to be is like to be in an intrim absence
    as there exists not a permanent presence

  6. simonbaghon 08 Nov 2010 at 11:26 am

    again spring made head out of icicles that drip,
    trickle on nature’s cheek to wake it up of sleep

  7. Bill Mattixon 15 Nov 2010 at 11:57 am

    This poem was a blessing to me, my day has been a struggle and the last paragraph made me really think about the fact that we need to leave are troubles behind and move foward through the day with joy.

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