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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Fall (Wendell Berry)

Wendell Berry visited Grinnell College when I was a student there in the early 1980s. It was thrilling to have a famous writer/farmer on our campus for a few days, an engaging and inspiring speaker, and a poet to boot. He participated in a student/faculty dinner at Grinnell House (which to this day I can't believe I got invited to, and unfortunately drank a little too much red wine at) gave the weekly convocation as well as a poetry reading, and dropped in over at Tofu House (where I was living at the time) to mingle with students as we engaged in our usual revelry on Saturday night. When I asked him how he was doing (I was a painfully shy 20 year old; I can hardly believe I had the courage to approach him), he expressed unease with being away from his family and their farm "in the middle of planting time." I was childless, spouse-less, my only obligation to attend classes more often than not, turn in papers when they were due, graduate in decent standing, and here was this man of the hour visibly ill at ease for abandoning his wife, his Kentucky home, his fields needing planting, to grace us with his thought-provoking and life-changing (at least for me) thoughts about the sanctity of farmland. The two of us couldn't have been in more different mindsets. At 51, I think I might have an inkling of where he was at, though I'm still not sure.

Fall

The wild cherries ripen, black and fat,
Paradisal fruits that taste of no man's sweat.

Reach up, pull down the laden branch, and eat;
When you have learned their bitterness, they taste sweet.






11 comments:

Justin Evans said...

I relied heavily on Wendell Berry when I was writing my latest manuscript. I love his work.

Martha Silano said...

Thanks for sharing, Justin. If Wendell Berry's work has influenced yours, then I must read a copy of your manuscript!

macconchie said...

Thanks for sharing this story about Wendell; I enjoyed reading it. Wendell has influenced me greatly and here's a recent post I wrote are spending a few months in his essays:

http://www.novasights.com/2011/09/11/unplugging-chimera/

Benjamin

Martha Silano said...

Hi Benjamin--
Thanks for posting a link to your essay. Wendell spreads his influence well!

seana graham said...

Beautiful little poem. I too am a big fan of his essays. I envy your meeting him, but I would definitely have been too shy to speak to him, especially at that age.

Martha Silano said...

Hi Seana -- I am a fan of his essays too! I wanted to tell him how much I appreciated his visit but the words just wouldn't come out of me.

seana graham said...

I bet he knew.

Martha Silano said...

But you know how it is ... If the person doesn't hear it, he might assume his efforts weren't worth it. I've learned since then to approach writers when they've moved me.

seana graham said...

Yes. I have too. But I think youthful shyness and awkwardness are more transparent.

Martha Silano said...

I hope you're right cuz I doubt I'll ever be in the same room with him again.

seana graham said...

You never know.