Critical Assessment

“‘New Collected Poems’ reprints nearly 200 pieces from Berry’s long career, including the poems from his most recent collections: ‘Entries,’ ‘Given,’ and ‘Leavings.’ Although his voice proves more musical in these poems than in his prose works, his theme is essentially the same: a reverence for nature, a respect for the near and tangible as opposed to the distant and hypothetical, and a distrust of economies of scale. . . .

“Like another poet-farmer, Robert Frost, Berry views nature not as a postcard image, but as a window into what endures – and what does not. In ‘Planting Crocuses,’ a poem very much in the Frost tradition, Berry’s gardening reminds him of the grave, and of the cycle of time that binds us all:

“My mind pressing in
through the earth’s
dark motion toward
bloom, I thought of you,
glad there is no escape.
It is this we will be
turning and re-
turning to . . .

“Arranged chronologically from 1964 to 2010, these poems offer a biography of a writer and a place, affirming Berry’s view that for the ideal writer, words and place are inextricably linked. Berry charted out this argument in a prose work published last year, a critical reflection called ‘The Poetry of William Carlos Williams of Rutherford.’ Berry looks to Williams, who drew upon his home place of Rutherford, N.J. for lifelong inspiration, as a literary model. What Berry wrote about Williams’ poetry in that book could equally apply to his own – that his poems deal “most directly and explicitly with the complex cultural necessity of an ongoing, lively connection between imagination in the highest sense and the ground underfoot.”

Danny Heitman, “‘New Collected Poems’ Allows the Playful, Musical Side of Wendell Berry’s Being to Shine Through,”  The Christian Science Monitor, April 4, 2012.

First Excerpt

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.


Second Excerpt

Kentucky River Junction
to Ken Kesey & Ken Babbs

Clumsy at first, fitting together
the years we have been apart,
and the ways.

But as the night
passed and the day came, the first
fine morning of April,

it came clear:
the world that has tried us
and showed us its joy

was our bond
when we said nothing.
And we allowed it to be

with us, the new green

Our lives, half gone,
stay full of laughter.

Free-hearted men
have the world for words.

Though we have been
apart, we have been together.

Trying to sleep, I cannot
take my mind away.
The bright day

shines in my head
like a coin
on the bed of a stream.

You left
your welcome.