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Wendell Berry's "Speech to the Garden Club of America"

Wendell Berry's books are available in Denver at The Tattered Cover and other bookstores.
Wendell Berry's books are available in Denver at The Tattered Cover and other bookstores.
Photo by James Baca

The dog days are upon Denver. Here's a poem by Wendell Berry, one of America's most eloquent and thoughtful and salt-of-the-earth writers. Go ahead, read it aloud, the way poetry ideally is enjoyed.


A Speech to the Garden Club of America
(With thanks to Wes Jackson and in memory of Sir Albert Howard and Stan Rowe.)


Thank you. I’m glad to know we’re friends, of course;
There are so many outcomes that are worse.
But I must add I’m sorry for getting here
By a sustained explosion through the air,
Burning the world in fact to rise much higher
Than we should go. The world may end in fire
As prophesied – our world! We speak of it
As “fuel” while we burn it in our fit
Of temporary progress, digging up
An antique dark-held luster to corrupt
The present light with smokes and smudges, poison
To outlast time and shatter comprehension.
Burning the world to live in it is wrong,
As wrong as to make war to get along
And be at peace, to falsify the land
By sciences of greed, or by demand
For food that’s fast or cheap to falsify
The body’s health and pleasure – don’t ask why.
But why not play it cool? Why not survive
By Nature’s laws that still keep us alive?
Let us enlighten, then, our earthly burdens
By going back to school, this time in gardens
That burn no hotter than the summer day.
By birth and growth, ripeness, death and decay,
By goods that blind us to all living things,
Life of our life, the garden lives and sings.
The wheel of Life, delight, the fact of wonder,
Contemporary light, work, sweat, and hunger
Bring food to table, food to cellar shelves.
A creature of the surface, like ourselves,
The garden lives by the immortal Wheel
That turns in place, year after year, to heal
It whole. Unlike our economic pyre
That draws from ancient rock a fossil fire,
An anti-life of radiance and fume
That burns as power and remains as doom,
The garden delves no deeper than its roots
And lifts no higher than its leaves and fruits.
-- Wendell Berry

The New Yorker published this poem in 2009.

••• "Cultivate your corner of the world. You grow your garden; your garden grows you." •••

Colleen Smith gardens in and writes from central Denver.
Friday Jones Publishing will release her first novel, titled Glass Halo. 
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