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Faithful to the Fields

Posted 4/3/2012 11:11am by Mark.

Spring brings back the words of Wendell Berry. Read aloud, or in your own voice:

At A Country Funeral
Wendell Berry
 
Now the old ways that have brought us   
farther than we remember sink out of sight   
as under the treading of many strangers   
ignorant of landmarks. Only once in a while   
they are cast clear again upon the mind   
as at a country funeral where, amid the soft
lights and hothouse flowers, the expensive   
solemnity of experts, notes of a polite musician,   
persist the usages of old neighborhood.
Friends and kinsmen come and stand and speak,   
knowing the extremity they have come to,   
one of their own bearing to the earth the last   
of his light, his darkness the sun’s definitive mark.
They stand and think as they stood and thought   
when even the gods were different.
And the organ music, though decorous   
as for somebody else’s grief, has its source
in the outcry of pain and hope in log churches,   
and on naked hillsides by the open grave,   
eastward in mountain passes, in tidelands,   
and across the sea. How long a time?   
Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide my   
self in Thee. They came, once in time,
in simple loyalty to their dead, and returned   
to the world. The fields and the work   
remained to be returned to. Now the entrance
of one of the old ones into the Rock
too often means a lifework perished from the land   
without inheritor, and the field goes wild   
and the house sits and stares. Or it passes   
at cash value into the hands of strangers.   
Now the old dead wait in the open coffin   
for the blood kin to gather, come home
for one last time, to hear old men
whose tongues bear an essential topography   
speak memories doomed to die.
But our memory of ourselves, hard earned,   
is one of the land’s seeds, as a seed
is the memory of the life of its kind in its place,   
to pass on into life the knowledge
of what has died. What we owe the future   
is not a new start, for we can only begin   
with what has happened. We owe the future   
the past, the long knowledge
that is the potency of time to come.
That makes of a man’s grave a rich furrow.
The community of knowing in common is the seed   
of our life in this place. There is not only   
no better possibility, there is no
other, except for chaos and darkness,   
the terrible ground of the only possible
new start. And so as the old die and the young   
depart, where shall a man go who keeps   
the memories of the dead, except home   
again, as one would go back after a burial,   
faithful to the fields, lest the dead die   
a second and more final death.

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