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Wendell Berry: love and loss

March 24, 2009

In addition to his significant writings in nonfiction, Berry is known as well for his poetry and fiction. Something you might be interested in pursuing for further reading.

“An Entrance to the Woods” reads like an elegy to me: a meditation on loss, almost as if Berry is mourning a death, even his own death. I can’t describe it other than to say that in reading this essay I feel the sadness he evokes, feel sad, not at ease; something in me aches. At least until the end, when the sun warms him and he breaks camp. There is an element here of the pastoral tradition: the mediation on a state of nature that is passing. The second essay, “The Making of a Marginal Farm,” a well-known essay that is first published in The Orion magazine, provides a response, perhaps, to what follows the mourning and loss, or is connected to it: love. This idea of loving the land seems crucial to Berry’s vision. We heard this from Leopold, and began to discuss it there. What do you make of Berry’s notion of love as a model for environmental ethics?

Seems to me that in both cases, the case of mourning a loss and the case of marrying a sweetheart, there is a relation to the natural world (not the world made by machines) that Berry seeks that locates responsibility in some sort of heartache or love. What could that mean?

An image that came to mind in reference to the passing of the earth that is meditated upon in both essays, particularly when he comes upon the inscription of the name and date, haunted from the presence of the past. The image is one famous in pastoral elegy: et in arcadia ego. A memento mori; death, too, brings all to pass. In the face of such a nature, Berry seems to reach for the wisdom of loving the land.

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