April 26, 2019

JILL DUNKLEY READS WENDELL BERRY


Wendell Berry, born Aug 5, 1934, is an American novelist, poet, essayist, environmental activist, cultural critic and farmer.  His writing is grounded in the notion that one’s work ought to be rooted in and responsive to place. From 1979 to the present, Berry has been writing what he calls “Sabbath poems”.  The poems are inspired by Berry’s withdrawal from civilization and consumer culture when he walks onto the land on Sunday mornings.  As he puts it, “I go free from the tasks and intentions of my workdays, and so my mind becomes hospitable to unintended thoughts – to what I am very willing to call inspiration.”

Wendell Berry
I GO AMONG TREES
(from This Day: Collected & New Sabbath Poems)


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.

I literally knew nothing about Wendell Berry when I decided, with little thought, to bring along this poem on a three-day wilderness fast, on a piece of land I had come to know and love through the four seasons. The first line of the poem appealed -- I knew I was going among trees to sit still with an intention to embrace my aging mind and body at this crossroads in my life.  By choosing to cross the threshold into a different mode of being from the busy-ness that had become my life, I hoped to create a space to really “see” myself and the world I was embedded in a deeper way.  In order to become alive to the place through all my senses, to deeply immerse into my dreams, my imagination, the soul of the world around me,  I brought my sketch book and this poem that I intended to memorize by heart while on the fast. 

And I brought something else which has haunted me my whole life – a healthy dose of fear and trepidation.

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.

As I emptied myself of food, drinking only water, I became nourished by the wildness around me.  I sketched for hours the beauty of land, and began to learn the poem “by heart”.  I was allowing myself to be opened and changed by the intermingling of the land and creation of art.  Wendell Berry says “Nothing exists for its own sake, but for the harmony greater than itself which includes it.  A work of art, which accepts this condition, and exists upon its terms, honors the Creation, and so becomes a part of it”. And as the wild ones came, the otters, the squirrels, the bluejays, “singing their songs” I realized that the poem was a part of the unfolding of the experience.

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.

It was on the second day of the fast that I began to wonder about this 3rd stanza of the poem. The act of speaking the words aloud vibrated and resonated through my being, calling them forth into the world I was now so deeply engaged with.  “Then, what I am afraid of comes.” And around dusk, with the golden light permeating the rocks, water, trees and sky - it came.  And I cannot share more in words, because the moment was so deeply sacred. 
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.

And so, in the arc of a life, as my face wrinkles, and my teeth begin to fall out, I am reminded by this experience to embrace it all.  My heart is opening to a deeper creativity,  immersed in a mystery that is so much greater, where I hear my song at last.  


Jill Dunkley, Still Life with Deer Skull, Nest and Feather
Jill Dunkley practices and teaches yoga and mindfulness in rural Eastern Ontario. A pivotal question for her is how these practices help to ground our experience in the natural world. See more about Jill at https://www.yoga-therapy.ca/

No comments:

Post a Comment