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carnatic.com > Karmasaya > People > Wendell Berry

by Angela Strunk?

source : http://www.english.eku.edu/SERVICES/KYLIT/BERRY.HTM

(since the above page is only available in Google's cache... I(a Wendell Berry Fan) have copied below)

The farmer, poet, novelist, essayist, and teacher, Wendell Berry, is a lover of the land. His appreciation and love for the land is expressed in both his life and works.

Berry was born at New Castle, Kentucky, in 1934. He grew up in this Henry County locale among "the cycle of the tobacco growing, cultivation, and marketing, so the romance of Kentucky's green gold is a living part of him" (Browning 191). In 1956, Berry graduated form the University of Kentucky with a B.A. degree in English and received his M.A. degree there a year later. During the summer of 1956, Berry studied at Indiana University School of Letters. From 1957 to 1959, he taught at Georgetown College. Later, under a creative writing fellowship, he went to the creative writing Center at Stanford University and taught creative writing for a year. While at Stanford, he wrote his first novel, Nathan Coulter.

In 1963, he taught at New York University. When Berry was offered and accepted a teaching position in the English Department at the University of Kentucky, the Berry's came home to Henry County in Kentucky. He lives on a 125 acre farm where his family has lived since the early 1800's. According to Bryan Wooley, "Berry is the fifth generation of his father's family and the sixth of his mother's to farm in Henry County, in the neighborhood of Port Royal" (8). Although his wife, formerly Tanya Amyx, lived in the city all her life, she and her husband raised their two children, Mary Dee and Pryor (Den) Clifford, on the farm. In the article "Wendell Berry, A Kentucky Writer Tries to Strengthen the Ties Between Man and the Land," Wooley discusses Berry's farm life. Berry did not initially intend to live on this farm but intended to use it as a vacation place. Instead the Berry's renovated the house and moved in around July 4, 1965. "It is a real farm, not a writer-professor's country estate. Its chores include milking cows and currying horses, and mucking out stalls and mending fences and mowing hay and all other time-consuming sometimes back-breaking, labor that family agriculture requires" (10).

Most of his farm was previously neglected, but Berry is fascinated with making this abused land productive. Oddly, he does not have a modern toilet; instead he has a clean white privy in the backyard. The wastes deposited there are made into compost. Tractors are not used to plow his fields, either. Berry uses a team of draft horses in replace of "Exhaust-stinking, engine-roaring, gasoline-guzzling tractors" (11). Berry feels he is doing his part by not harming the environment any further.

Another technology he does not convenience himself with is a computer, which Berry explains in his essay "Why I Am Not Going To Buy a Computer?" He writes his works and then his wife revises and types then on a manual typewriter. Berry gives three main reasons for not buying a computer: (1) He would hate to think that his work could not be done without a direct dependence on strip-mined coal. (2) He does not want to replace the close bond between him and his wife with an expensive unnecessary piece of equipment. (3) He does not want to "fool himself" by owning a computer, a tool that itself does not make his writing any better than the writing he does with a pencil. His first reason is in regard with his awareness of the land being striped to produce the electricity to run the computer. For the same reason, he writes in the daytime without electric lighting (179-171). By not participating in the "rape of nature," he shows his concern for the environment.

In Berry's novel, The Memory of Old Jack, this same appreciation for the earth is portrayed through the main character, Jack Beechum. Within this novel, the love for the land can be seen as a means of fulfillment. Although other prominent relationships are evident in Beechum's life, the most important relationship that he has is that with the soil and land.

Beechum remembers going though "a tormented marriage,... a jaded relationship with a hired black hand, and a tender love affair with a young widow... Through it all, Beechum is sustained by his farm, the paramount love and labor of his life" (Borries 26).

Beechum's marriage failed during courtship as Berry explains on page 54 and 55. His wife, Ruth Beechum, expected and wanted more of a business man instead of the farmer he was. The two, even though they were husband and wife, were strangers to each other. "She remained to him an unknown continent" (58). Beechum spent much of his time in the fields with the land, not with his wife. He could not fail with the land nor disappoint it, and it could not hold any expectations for him. So, he had more of a bond with the land than his wife.

Beechum and Will Wells, his Black hired hand, were originally like brothers, working on and caring for the land together. However, they grew weary in their relationship with the roles they fell into. Wells "was a man laboring for no more than his existence," while Beechum had "an increasing resentment of his dependence and a jealous remembering of the days when he had worked alone...when in his solitary work he had been so free" (81). Beechum had a greater need for the land than his hired hand.

Beechum thought he could restore his happiness through a love affair with Rose McInnis?, a young widow. At first it did just that. Nevertheless, "with Rose too he was beginning to feel an incompleteness" (134). He loved McInnis? but was married to Ruth Beechum; therefore, it could never lead to anything. Beechum knows the love in his affair with McInnis? is dishonorable, whereas the love in his affair with the land is honorable.

Beechum's love for the land can be seen through faithfulness, his death, and his community. He is faithful to the earth, "Promising the return of what has been taken from it" (157). On the other hand, Jack also felt that the land was faithful to him by giving him "exactly what he put into it" (Borries 26). As death is at his door, he sits in a chair in his room, but his last visions are as though he is sitting at the roots of a tree on his farm (Berry 190-192). It is almost like his last request is to be with the wilderness. Moreover, Mat Feltner thought Beechum should have been buried secretly, only known to the ones who loved him best, at the edge of one of his fields so that: "when the last of them who knew its place (Beechum's grave-site) had died, Old Jack's return would be complete. He would be lost to memory there in the field, silently possessed by the earth on which he once established the work of his hands" (Berry 207). Therefore, he grew to love the soil and its natural surroundings greater than all else since his other relationships failed to give him satisfaction.

Another of Berry's works that displays a true love for his homeland is his poem "East Kentucky, 1967" included in his collection entitled Openings. The poem invites two questions concerning the environment. The first six lines challenge the awareness of what industrialization has done to the land. The waste produced by machines in the air and streams are at the expense of the lives all of the earth encompasses. The last six lines challenge the awareness of the future of our children. The next generation holds no hope for the reason they are "helpless." Since the children can only witness what we have shown them in this industrial period, they cannot "vision" and are "blind" to the land when it is beautiful and plentiful.

Wendell Berry expresses in his own life and in his works, a fondness, a love for the land and community. In my opinion and understanding, he wants us to realize our modernization is damaging the earth. It is killing the environment. Berry is not trying to tell us to "Save the World." The difference we make does not have to be large scale but local, individually taking part in preventing further damage. Berry explains in an interview with Bluegrass, "I think that changing yourself by doing the best work you can is of major importance" (27). In other words, if we worry about the part we can do locally, instead of thinking that we cannot do it all, then together we can make a noticeable difference.

Works Cited Berry, Wendell. "East Kentucky, 1967." Openings. Harcourt, Brace, and World: New York, 1968.

- - -. the Memory of Old Jack. Harcourt, Brace, and World: New York, 1974.

- - -. "Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer?" What People Are For? North Point Press: San Francisco, 1990.

Borries, Philip. "Retired Kentucky Farmer Recalls Days He Spent Tilling the Earth." Lexington Herald Leader. 10 Mar 1974: 26.

Brown, Katy. "Kentucky's Most Honest Voice." Bluegrass. Winter 94: 23-28.

Browning, Mary Carmel. Kentucky Authors. Keller-Crescent: Indiana, 1968: 191-194.

Wooley, Bryan. "Wendell Berry, A Kentucky Writer Tries to Strengthen the Ties Between Man and the Land." Courier-Journal & Times. 8-13.

A Wendell Berry Bibliography by Angela Strunk

Nathan Coulter. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1960. A book of fiction.

The Broken Ground. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1965. A book of 27 poems.

The Memory of Old Jack. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1965.

A Place on Earth. Boston: Harcourt, Brace, 1967. A book of fiction.

The Rise. Lexington, Kentucky: Grave Press, 1968. A book of nonfiction.

Findings. Iowa City, Iowa: The Prairie Press, 1968. A book of eight poems.

The Long-Legged House. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1972. A book of nonfiction.

The Hidden Wound. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970. A book of nonfiction.

The Country of Marriage. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1973. A book of 37 poems.

Farming: A Handbook. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1973. A book of 55 poems.

Horses. Monterey, Kentucky: Larkspur Press, 1974. A poem.

The Kentucky River. Monterey, Kentucky: Gnoman Press, 1975. A poem.

Sayings and Doings. Lexington, Kentucky: Gnoman Press, 1975. A book of 55 entries.

To What Listens. Crete, Nebraska: The Best Cellar Press, 1975. A poem.

Three Memorial Poems. Berkeley, California: Sand Dollar Press, 1977. A book of 3 poems.

A Part. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1980. A book of 54 poems.

The Gift of Good Land: Further essays Cultural and Agricultural. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1981. A book of 22 nonfiction essays.

Recollected Essays, 1965-1980. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1981. A book of 10 nonfiction essays.

Standing by Words. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1983. A book of 7 nonfiction essays.

An Eastward Look. Berkely, california: Sand dollar Press, 1984. A poem.

The Collected Poems, 1957-1983. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1985. A book of 203 poems.

The Wild Birds: Six Stories of the Port William Membership. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1986. A book of 6 fiction stories.

Home Economics: Fourteen Essays. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1987. A book of 14 nonfiction essays.

Sabbaths: Poems. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1987. A book of 45 poems.

Remembering. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1988. A book of fiction.

Links

As I understand it, I am being paid only for my work in arranging the words; my property is that arrangement. The thoughts in this book, on the contrary, are not mine. They came freely to me, and I give them freely away. I have no "intellectual property," and I think that all claimants to such property are thieves."

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