Monday, December 12, 2016

A little Wendell Berry observation

I really need to get back into the swing of blogging. I've had an old childhood friend visiting for the weekend (who was happy to take up her book at any opportunity, which is my sort of house guest! - you know they are happy with a little bit of nothingness). We went to the National Museum and saw the A History of the World in 100 Objects exhibit from the British Museum. The truth is, it was perhaps not quite as amazing as I was expecting it to be, but I am pleased I saw it.

I thought I'd share a little Wendell Berry. There is a character in his novels called Burley Coulter. I have quite a soft spot for Burley, though he is not one one who has walked the straight and narrow. Here is a  passage that shows the beautiful way Berry observes the simple things. He commenting on the tobacco harvesting:
I never caught up with Elton and Nathan and Danny, or came anywhere near it, but at least when the rows were straight I always had them in sight, and I loved to watch them. Though they kept an even, steady pace, it was not a slow one. They drove into the work, maintaining the same pressing rhythm form one end of the row to the other, and yet they worked well, as smoothly and precisely as dancers. To see them moving side by side against the standing crop, leaving it fallen, the field changed, behind them, was maybe like watching Homeric soldiers going into battle. It was momentous and beautiful, and touchingly, touchingly mortal. They were spending themselves as they worked, giving up their time; they would not return by the way they went.

The good crew men among us were Burley and Elton. When the sun was hot and the going hard, it would put heart into us to hear Burley singing out down the row some scrap of human sorry that his flat, exuberant voice both expressed and mocked:

Allll our sins and griefs to bear – oh!

– that much only, raised abruptly out of the silence like the howl of some solitary dog. Or he would sing with a lovelorn quaver in his voice:

Darlin', fool yourself and love me one more time.

And when we were unloading the wagons in the barn, he would start his interminable tale about his life as a circus teamster. It was not meant to be believed, and yet in our misery we listened to his extravagant wonderful lies as if he had been Marco Polo returned from Cathay.
From That Distant Land, a short story in the book of the same title.

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