Aug 14 2020

Wendell Berry – Sabbaths 1999, VII

Published by at 7:56 am under Poetry

Sabbaths 1999, VII
by Wendell Berry

Again I resume the long
lesson: how small a thing
can be pleasing, how little
in this hard world it takes
to satisfy the mind
and bring it to its rest.

With the ongoing havoc
the woods this morning is
almost unnaturally still.
Through stalled air, unshadowed
light, a few leaves fall
of their own weight.

The sky
is gray. It begins in mist
almost at the ground
and rises forever. The trees
rise in silence almost
natural, but not quite,
almost eternal, but
not quite.

What more did I
think I wanted? Here is
what has always been.
Here is what will always
be. Even in me,
the Maker of all this
returns in rest, even
to the slightest of His works,
a yellow leaf slowly
falling, and is pleased.

— from Given: Poems, by Wendell Berry


/ Image by Mark Grant-Jones /

It’s been a while since we’ve had a poem by Wendell Berry. And, yes, maybe this poem is for a misty autumn morning, but it suits today just as well…

Again I resume the long
lesson: how small a thing
can be pleasing…

That’s the “long lesson,” the slow realization of a lifetime lived with attention: the deep satisfaction of simple moments. Grand experiences may serve as important punctuation marks to life, but it is only when we deeply engage with the gentle flow of small events that we come to know our lives. Remember, real magic is hidden; it is hidden in those quiet moments.

how little
in this hard world it takes
to satisfy the mind
and bring it to its rest.

And nature is our constant teacher and guide, again and again bringing us back to ourselves.

With the ongoing havoc
the woods this morning is
almost unnaturally still.

When we walk well among the woods, with the quiet attention that comes only when self is left behind, we glide through the eternal moment.

What more did I
think I wanted? Here is
what has always been.
Here is what will always
be.

And we just might come to recognize the Source of “all this” — right here, within this moment, within our own breast.

Even in me,
the Maker of all this
returns in rest…

Berry’s title tells us this poem is about the Sabbath. He understands the real meaning of the Sabbath. It is not the one day out of seven when one goes to church or synagogue. Sabbath is the living moment of sacred rest. It isn’t a question of how often we sit within a steepled hall. Until the mind quiets and comes to rest in the heart, we have not yet honored the Sabbath.

The image of the falling leaf, the reference to the day of rest, this also gently suggests something of death to us. The poet is walking through the woods in autumn and contemplating the how things end, how our own lives play out and come to a close, and there is a quiet contentment. We might find a fullness in that moment of awareness when we simply allow ourselves to be at rest in the natural rhythm of things. Death is not a horror or a source of dread but, in its right time, a strangely sweet yielding, a sabbath.

Whichever day of the week you read this, have a beautiful day of rest and contemplation!


Recommended Books: Wendell Berry

The Collected Poems of Wendell Berry, 1957-1982 Given: Poems Selected Poems of Wendell Berry A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997 The Mad Farmer Poems
More Books >>


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

US (1934 – )
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Wendell Berry

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5 responses so far

5 Responses to “Wendell Berry – Sabbaths 1999, VII”

  1. Harvey Gillmanon 14 Aug 2020 at 8:41 am

    Rarely has a poem seemed apposite to me, so of this day and time. As I reflect on the ambiguity of hope, I am learning to cherish the small things which make life worth living.

  2. Mystic Meanderingon 14 Aug 2020 at 9:14 am

    Beautiful… Very timely for me… Thank you _/\_

  3. Franceson 14 Aug 2020 at 4:28 pm

    Timely, and nourishing…makes me feel I never have FOMO, like the kids say, because every moment is a vast oasis of dwelling in possibility. Hope you and your wife are well, too!

  4. Carolon 15 Aug 2020 at 3:47 am

    I do love Wendell Berry, and this poem for right now. I love your Thought for the Day
    and your commentary. What a gift Ivan – Thank You. Peace and Love and justice.

  5. Joan Breiton 15 Aug 2020 at 9:47 am

    All so very sweet and true!

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