Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Mad Farmer

One of the books I pulled right back off the bookshelves and have been paging through is Wendell Berry's Collected Poems 1957-1982. He has a series of poems in there about a character called the Mad Farmer, a wise but contrary eccentric. The first (in this collection at least) is "The Mad Farmer Revolution" followed by many others: "The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer," "The Mad Farmer and the City," "Prayers and Sayings of the Mad Farmer," which includes a line I often quote, "Don't own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire" as well as a very appropriate saying for recent weather here: "Don't pray for the rain to stop. / Pray for good luck fishing / when the river floods."

But the highlight of these poems is "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer's Liberation Front."

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
Then you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
That's less than half the poem--I'm a bit leery of posting someone's entire poem without permission. Those final three lines of what I include here are really powerful to me (and were especially so when I worked for a summer camp that included the US pledge of allegiance as part of its daily routine). The poem goes on in the next bit to talk about planting sequoias and calling your profit the leaves that rot to enrich the earth, an image of a theme that resonates throughout his writings--Berry is a novelist and essayist as well, especially on matters of the environment, not in the abstract but in the particulars of how culture interacts with the world around us. And near the end he says, "As soon as the generals and politicos / can predict the motions of your mind, / lose it. [...] Be like the fox / who makes more tracks than necessary, / some in the wrong direction."

So take this as my encouragement to go find some Wendell Berry poems or essays. Or he would probably rather I say it's my encouragement to know the land around you, to be deeply invested in an authentic relationship with your place rather than a superficial consumer.

2 comments:

Elliot said...

I need to read more Wendell Berry. That line about the house catching fire is great.

Daniel Ausema said...

Yeah, I like it =) I've enjoyed some of his fiction, but it does seem to run together a bit, exploring the same themes without much new. But his poetry is great, and his essays insightful as well.