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Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry at the Frankfort, Indiana Community Public Library, 4 November 2005
Born August 5, 1934 (1934-08-05) (age 75)
Henry County, Kentucky
Occupation Farmer, Writer, Academic
Nationality United States
Period 20th-21st Centuries
Genres Fiction, Poetry, Essays
Subjects agriculture, rural life

Wendell Berry (born August 5, 1934, Henry County, Kentucky) is an American man of letters, academic, cultural and economic critic, and farmer. He is a prolific author of novels, short stories, poems, and essays. He is also an elected member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers.



Berry is the first of four children born to John Berry, a lawyer and tobacco farmer in Henry County, and Virginia Berry. The families of both of his parents have farmed in Henry County for at least five generations. Berry attended secondary school at Millersburg Military Institute, then earned a B.A. and M.A. in English at the University of Kentucky, where in 1956 he met another Kentucky writer-to-be, Gurney Norman.[1] In 1957, he completed his M.A. and married Tanya Amyx. In 1958, he attended Stanford University's creative writing program as a Wallace Stegner Fellow, studying under Stegner in a seminar that included Edward Abbey, Larry McMurtry, Robert Stone, Ernest Gaines, Tillie Olsen, and Ken Kesey.[2][3] Berry's first novel, Nathan Coulter, was published in April 1960. A Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship took Berry and his family to Italy and France in 1961, where he came to know Wallace Fowlie, critic and translator of French literature. From 1962 to 1964, he taught English at New York University's University College in the Bronx. In 1964, he began teaching creative writing at the University of Kentucky, from which he resigned in 1977.[3] During this time in Lexington, he came to know author Guy Davenport, as well as author Thomas Merton and photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard.[4]

In 1965, Berry moved to a farm he had purchased, Lane's Landing, and began growing corn and small grains on what eventually became a 125-acre homestead. Lane's Landing is near Port Royal, Kentucky, in north central Kentucky, and his parents' birthplaces, and is on the western bank of the Kentucky River, not far from where it flows into the Ohio River. Berry has farmed, resided, and written at Lane's Landing down to the present day. In the 1970s and early 1980s, he edited and wrote for the Rodale Press, including its publications Organic Gardening and Farming and The New Farm. From 1987 to 1993, he returned to the English Department of the University of Kentucky.[5][6] Berry has written at least twenty-five books (or chapbooks) of poems, sixteen volumes of essays, and eleven novels and short story collections. His writing is grounded in the notion that one's work ought to be rooted in and responsive to one's place.

Berry has criticized Christian organizations for failing to challenge cultural complacency about environmental degradation,[7] and has shown a willingness to criticize what he perceives as the arrogance of some Christians.[8] Berry is a fellow of Britain's Temenos Academy, a learned society devoted to the study of all faiths and spiritual pursuits; Berry publishes frequently in the annual Temenos Academy Review, funded by the Prince of Wales.[9]


His nonfiction serves as an extended conversation about the life he values. According to Berry, the good life includes sustainable agriculture, appropriate technologies, healthy rural communities, connection to place, the pleasures of good food, husbandry, good work, local economics, the miracle of life, fidelity, frugality, reverence, and the interconnectedness of life. The threats Berry finds to this good life include: industrial farming and the industrialization of life, ignorance, hubris, greed, violence against others and against the natural world, the eroding topsoil in the United States, global economics, and environmental destruction. As a prominent defender of agrarian values, Berry's appreciation for traditional farming techniques, such as those of the Amish, grew in the 1970s, due in part to exchanges with Draft Horse Journal publisher Maurice Telleen. Berry has long been friendly to and supportive of Wes Jackson, believing that Jackson's agricultural research at The Land Institute lives out the promise of "solving for pattern" and using "nature as model."

The concept of "Solving for pattern", coined by Berry in his essay[10] of the same title, is the process of finding solutions that solve multiple problems, while minimizing the creation of new problems. The essay was originally published in the Rodale Press periodical The New Farm. Though Mr. Berry's use of the phrase was in direct reference to agriculture, it has since come to enjoy broader use throughout the design community.[11][12]


Berry's lyric poetry often appears as a contemporary eclogue, pastoral, or elegy; but he also composes dramatic and historical narratives (such as "Bringer of Water"[13] and "July, 1773",[14] respectively) and occasional and discursive poems ("Against the War in Vietnam"[15] and "Some Further Words",[16] respectively).

Berry's first published poetry book consisted of a single poem, the elegiac November Twenty Six Nineteen Hundred Sixty Three (1964), initiated and illustrated by Ben Shahn, commemorating the death of John F. Kennedy. It begins,

We know
The winter earth
Upon the body
Of the young
   And the early dark

and continues through ten more stanzas (each propelled by the anaphora of "We know"). The elegiac here and elsewhere, according to Triggs, enables Berry to characterize the connections "that link past and future generations through their common working of the land." [17]

The first full-length collection, The Broken Ground (1964), develops many of Berry's fundamental concerns: "the cycle of life and death, responsiveness to place, pastoral subject matter, and recurring images of the Kentucky River and the hill farms of north-central Kentucky" [18]

According to Angyal, "There is little modernist formalism or postmodernist experimentation in [Berry's] verse."[19] A commitment to the reality and primacy of the actual world stands behind these two rejections. In "Notes: Unspecializing Poetry," Berry writes, "Devotion to order that is not poetical prevents the specialization of poetry."[20] He goes on to note, "Nothing exists for its own sake, but for a harmony greater than itself which includes it. A work of art, which accepts this condition, and exists upon its terms, honors the Creation, and so becomes a part of it" [21]

Lionel Basney placed Berry's poetry within a tradition of didactic poetry that stretches back to Horace: "To say that Berry's poetry can be didactic, then, means that it envisions a specific wisdom, and also the traditional sense of art and culture that gives art the task of teaching this wisdom" [22]

For Berry, poetry exists "at the center of a complex reminding"[23] Both the poet and the reader are reminded of the poem's crafted language, of the poem's formal literary antecedents, of "what is remembered or ought to be remembered," and of "the formal integrity of other works, creatures and structures of the world." [24]


Berry's fiction to date consists of eight novels and thirty-two short stories (all but ten of which are collected in That Distant Land, 2004) which, when read as a whole, form a chronicle of the fictional small Kentucky town of Port William. Because of his long-term, ongoing exploration of the life of an imagined place, Berry has been compared to William Faulkner.[25] Yet, although Port William is no stranger to murder, suicide, alcoholism, and the full range of losses that touch human lives, it lacks the extremes of characterization and plot development that are found in much of Faulkner. Hence Berry is sometimes described as working in an idealized, pastoral, or nostalgic mode, a characterization of his work which he resists: "If your work includes a criticism of history, which mine certainly does, you can't be accused of wanting to go back to something, because you're saying that what we were wasn't good enough." [26]

The effect of profound shifts in the agricultural practices of the United States, and the disappearance of traditional agrarian life,[27] are some of the major concerns of the Port William fiction, though the theme is often only a background or subtext to the stories themselves. The Port William fiction attempts to portray, on a local scale, what "a human economy ... conducted with reverence"[28] looked like in the past—and what civic, domestic, and personal virtues might be evoked by such an economy were it pursued today. Social as well as seasonal changes mark the passage of time. The Port William stories allow Berry to explore the human dimensions of the decline of the family farm and farm community, under the influence of expanding post-World War II agribusiness. But these works rarely fall into simple didacticism, and are never merely tales of decline. Each is grounded in a realistic depiction of character and community. In A Place on Earth (1967), for example, farmer Mat Feltner comes to terms with the loss of his only son, Virgil. In the course of the novel, we see how not only Mat but the entire community wrestles with the acute costs of World War II.

Berry's fiction also allows him to explore the literal and metaphorical implications of marriage as that which binds individuals, families, and communities to each other and to Nature itself—yet not all of Port William is happily or conventionally married. "Old Jack" Beechum struggles with significant incompatibilities with his wife, and with a brief yet fulfilling extramarital affair. The barber Jayber Crow lives with a forlorn, secret, and unrequited love for a woman, believing himself "mentally" married to her even though she knows nothing about it. Burley Coulter never formalizes his bond with Kate Helen Branch, the mother of his son. Yet, each of these men find themselves firmly bound up in the community, the "membership," of Port William.

Berry's novel, Hannah Coulter (2004), presents a concise vision of Port William's "membership." The story encompasses Hannah's life, including the Great Depression, World War II, the post-war industrialization of agriculture, the flight of youth to urban employment, and the consequent remoteness of grandchildren. The tale is told in the voice of an old woman twice widowed, who has experienced much loss yet has never been defeated. Somehow, lying at the center of her strength is the "membership"—the fact that people care for each other and, even in absence, hold each other in a kind of presence. All in all, Hannah Coulter embodies many of the themes of Berry's Port William saga.




  • Andy Catlett: Early Travels. Washington, D. C.: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2006.
  • That Distant Land: The Collected Stories. Washington, D. C.: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2004.
  • Fidelity: Five Stories. New York: Pantheon, 1992.
  • Hannah Coulter. Washington, D.C.: Shoemaker & Hoard. 2004.
  • Jayber Crow. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 2000.
  • The Memory of Old Jack. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich 1974. (revised Counterpoint 2001).
  • Nathan Coulter. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1960 (revised North Point, 1985).
  • A Place on Earth. Boston: Harcourt, Brace, 1967 (revised North Point,1983; Counterpoint, 2001).
  • Remembering. San Francisco: North Point, 1988.
  • Three Short Novels (Nathan Coulter, Remembering, A World Lost). Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 2002.
  • Watch With Me and Six Other Stories of the Yet-Remembered Ptolemy Proudfoot and His Wife, Miss Minnie, Née Quinch. New York: Pantheon, 1994.
  • Whitefoot: A Story from the Center of the World. Berkeley: Counterpoint. 2009. Available online as "Whitefoot", Orion Magazine. January/February 2007.
  • The Wild Birds: Six Stories of the Port William Membership. San Francisco: North Point , 1986.
  • A World Lost. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 1996.

Uncollected Stories

  • "Andy Catlett: Early Education". The Threepenny Review. Spring 2009.
  • "A Burden". Oxford American, Issue 66, August 2009, p66-70, 5p.
  • "Burley Coulter's Fortunate Fall". Sewanee Review, Spring 2008, Vol 116 Issue 2, p264-273, 10p.
  • "A Desirable Woman". Hudson Review, Summer 2008, Vol 61 Issue 2, p295-314, 20p.
  • "The Dark Country". Sewanee Review, Spring 2009, Vol 117 Issue 2, pp. 163-180.
  • "Fly Away, Breath". The Threepenny Review. Spring 2008 and New Stories from the South: The Year's Best - 2009. Chapel Hill: Algonquin. 2009.
  • "Mike". The Sewanee Review. Winter 2005 and New Stories from the South: The Year's Best - 2006. Chapel Hill: Algonquin. 2006.
  • "Misery". Shenandoah: The Washington and Lee Review, Winter 2008, Vol 58, Number 3, p111 ff.
  • "A Place in Time: Some Chapters of a Telling Story". Hudson Review, Summer 2009, Vol 62 Issue 2, pp. 217-238.
  • "The Requirement". Harper's Magazine. March 2007.
  • "Stand By Me". The Atlantic. August 2008.


  • Another Turn of the Crank. Washington, D. C.: Counterpoint, 1996.
  • The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry. Ed. Norman Wirzba. Washington, D. C.: Counterpoint, 2002.
  • Blessed Are the Peacemakers: Christ's Teachings about Love, Compassion & Forgiveness. Washington, D. C.: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2005.
  • Bringing It to the Table: On Farming and Food. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2009.
  • Citizenship Papers. Washington, D. C.: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2003.
  • A Continuous Harmony: Essays Cultural & Agricultural. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1972 (Shoemaker & Hoard, 2004).
  • Descendants and Ancestors of Captain James W. Berry, with Laura Berry. Bowling Green, KY: Hub, 1990.
  • The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural. San Francisco: North Point, 1981 (Counterpoint, 2009).
  • Grace, Photographs of Rural America, 2000 with Gregory Spaid and Gene Logsdon
  • Harlan Hubbard: Life and Work. Lexington, Kentucky: U P of Kentucky, 1990.
  • The Hidden Wound. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970.
  • Home Economics: Fourteen Essays. San Francisco: North Point, 1987 (Counterpoint, 2009).
  • Imagination in Place. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2010.
  • In the Presence of Fear: Three Essays for a Changed World. Barrington, MA: Orion, 2001.
  • Life Is a Miracle.Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 2000.
  • The Long-Legged House. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1969 (Shoemaker & Hoard, 2004).
  • Meeting the Expectations of the Land: Essays in Sustainable Agriculture and Stewardship, 1984 editor with Wes Jackson and Bruce Colman
  • Recollected Essays: 1965-1980. San Francisco: North Point, 1981.
  • Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community. New York: Pantheon, 1992.
  • Standing by Words. San Francisco: North Point, 1983 (Shoemaker & Hoard, 2005).
  • Tobacco Harvest: An Elegy. Photographs by James Baker Hall. Lexington, Kentucky: U P of Kentucky, 2004.
  • The Unforeseen Wilderness: Kentucky's Red River Gorge. Photographs by Ralph Eugene Meatyard. U P Kentucky, 1971. Revised North Point, 1991. Reissued and revised Shoemaker & Hoard, 2006.
  • The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture. San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1977; Avon Books, 1978; Sierra Club, 1986.
  • The Way of Ignorance and Other Essays. Washington, D. C.: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2005. essays
  • What Are People For? New York: North Point, 1990.

Uncollected Essays


  • The Broken Ground. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1964.
  • Clearing. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1977.
  • The Collected Poems, 1957-1982. San Francisco: North Point, 1985.
  • The Country of Marriage. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1973.
  • An Eastward Look. Berkeley, California: Sand Dollar, 1974.
  • Entries. New York: Pantheon, 1994 (reprint Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 1997).
  • The Farm. Monterey, Kentucky: Larkspur, 1995.
  • Farming: A Hand Book. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1970.
  • Given: New Poems. Washington D. C.: Shoemaker & Hoard. 2005.
  • Leavings. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2010.
  • The Mad Farmer Poems. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2008.
  • November twenty six nineteen hundred sixty three. New York: Braziller, 1964.
  • Openings. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1968.
  • A Part. San Francisco: North Point, 1980.
  • Sabbaths: Poems. San Francisco: North Point, 1987.
  • Sabbaths 2002. Monterey, Kentucky: Larkspur, 2004.
  • Sabbaths 2006. Monterey, Kentucky: Larkspur, 2008.
  • Sayings and Doings. Lexington, Kentucky: Gnomon, 1975.
  • The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 1999.
  • A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 1998.
  • Traveling at Home. Press Alley, 1988; North Point 1989.
  • The Wheel. San Francisco, North Point, 1982.
  • Window Poems. Washington, D. C.: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2007.


  • Beattie, L. Elisabeth (Editor). "Wendell Berry" in Conversations With Kentucky Writers, U P of Kentucky, 1996.
  • Berger, Rose Marie. "Wendell Berry interview complete text," Sojourner's Magazine, July 2004 [1]
  • Fisher-Smith, Jordan. "Field Observations: An Interview with Wendell Berry'" [2]
  • Grubbs, Morris Allen (Editor). Conversations with Wendell Berry, U P of Mississippi, 2007.
  • Minick, Jim. "A Citizen and a Native:An Interview with Wendell Berry" Appalachian Journal, Vol. 31, Nos 3-4, (Spring-Summer, 2004)[3]
  • Weinreb, Mindy. "A Question a Day: A Written Conversation with Wendell Berry" in Merchant[29]
  • Brockman, Holly. "How can a family ‘live at the center of its own attention?’ Wendell Berry’s thoughts on the good life", January/February 2006 [4]
  • Smith, Peter. "Wendell Berry's still unsettled in his ways." The Courier-Journal, Sept. 30, 2007, A1.
  • 'Wendell Berry: A conversation,' The Diane Rehm Show. WAMU 88.5 American University Radio, November 30, 2009. [30]

Forewords, Introductions, Prefaces, and Afterwords

  • Driftwood Valley: A Woman Naturalist in the Northern Wilderness by Theodora C. Stanwell-Fletcher. Oregon State U P, 1999.
  • Enduring Seeds: Native American Agriculture and Wild Plant Conservation by Gary Paul Nabhan. U of Arizona P, 2002.
  • God and Work: Aspects of Art and Tradition by Brian Keeble. World Wisdom Books, 2009.
  • Great Possessions: An Amish Farmer's Journal by David Kline. Wooster Book Company, 2001.
  • James Archambeault's Historic Kentucky by James Archambeault. U P of Kentucky, 2006.
  • Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight by Norman Wirzba. Brazos P, 2006.
  • Lost Mountain: A Year in the Vanishing Wilderness by Erik Reece. Riverhead, 2006.
  • The Man Who Created Paradise by Gene Logsdon. Ohio U P, 2001.
  • Missing Mountains edited by Kristin Johannsen and others. Wind Publications, 2005.
  • My Mercy Encompasses All: The Koran's Teachings on Compassion, Peace and Love by Reza Shah-Kazemi. Counterpoint, 2007.
  • The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka. NYRB Classics, 2009.
  • The Pattern of a Man & Other Stories by James Still. Gnomon P, 2001.
  • Pedestrian Photographs by Larry Merrill. U of Rochester P, 2008.
  • Ralph Eugene Meatyard by Arnold Gassan. Gnomon P, 1970.
  • Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible by Ellen F. Davis. Cambridge U P, 2008.
  • Soil And Health: A Study of Organic Agriculture by Albert Howard. U P of Kentucky, 2007.
  • To a Young Writer by Wallace Stegner. Red Butte P, 2009.
  • The Toilet Papers: Recycling Waste and Conserving Water by Sim Van der Ryn. Ecological Design Press, 1978.
  • Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture by J. Russell Smith. Island P, 1987.
  • Waste Land: Meditations on a Ravaged Landscape by David T. Hanson. Aperture, 1997.
  • We All Live Downstream: Writings About Mountaintop Removal edited by Jason Howard. Motes Books, 2009.


Works on Berry

  • Angyal, Andrew. Wendell Berry. New York: Twayne, 1995.
  • Bonzo, J. Matthew and Michael R. Stevens. Wendell Berry and the Cultivation of Life: A Reader's Guide. Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2008.
  • Goodrich, Janet. The Unforeseen Self in the Works of Wendell Berry. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 2001.
  • Merchant, Paul, ed. Wendell Berry (American Authors Series). Lewiston, Idaho: Confluence, 1991.
  • Peters, Jason, ed. Wendell Berry: Life and Work. Lexington: U P of Kentucky, 2007.
  • Shuman, Joel James and Owens, L. Roger (eds). Wendell Berry and Religion: Heaven's Earthly Life. Lexington: U P of Kentucky, 2009.
  • Smith, Kimberly K. Wendell Berry and the Agrarian Tradition: A Common Grace. Lawrence: U P of Kansas, 2003.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Menand, Louis (2009-01-07). Show or Tell: A Critic at Large: The New Yorker. The New Yorker<!. Retrieved 2009-07-13. 
  3. ^ a b Angyal, Andrew. Wendell Berry. New York: Twayne, 1995, 139 ISBN 0805746285
  4. ^ Davenport, Guy. "Tom and Gene" in Father Louie: Photographs of Thomas Merton by Ralph Eugene Meatyard. New York: Timken, 1991.
  5. ^ Angyal, Andrew. Wendell Berry. New York: Twayne, 1995, ISBN 0805746285
  6. ^ The Quivira Coalition’s 6th Annual Conference, conference bulletin, page 14
  7. ^ Berry, Wendell. "Christianity and the Survival of Creation". Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community. New York: Pantheon, 1993
  8. ^ "Well, Christendom is all right, but it doesn't have to exclude everybody else. It doesn't have to go to war against them. And it doesn't have to be so stupid as to condemn other faiths that it doesn't know anything about." in Rose Marie Berger, "Heaven in Henry County: A Sojourner Interview with Wendell Berry."
  9. ^ "Key Individuals of The Temenos Academy". Retrieved 2009-07-13. 
  10. ^ Berry, Wendell, The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural. San Francisco: North Point, 1981, ISBN 0-86547-052-9
  11. ^ Orr, David. "The Designer's Challenge" (commencement address to the School of Design, University of Pennsylvania, on May 14, 2007) The Designer's Challenge
  12. ^ Luoni, Stephen. "Solving for Pattern: Development of Place-Building Design Models"
  13. ^ Farming: A Hand Book. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1970.
  14. ^ A Part. San Francisco: North Point, 1980.
  15. ^ Openings. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1968.
  16. ^ Given: New Poems. Washington D. C.: Shoemaker & Hoard. 2005.
  17. ^ Triggs, Jeffery. "Moving the Dark to Wholeness." 1988.
  18. ^ Angyal, Andrew. Wendell Berry. New York: Twayne, 1995, 119. ISBN 0805746285.
  19. ^ Angyal, Andrew. Wendell Berry. New York: Twayne, 1995, 116
  20. ^ Berry, Wendell. Standing by Words. San Francisco: North Point, 1983, 80.
  21. ^ Berry, Wendell. Standing by Words. San Francisco: North Point, 1983, 85.
  22. ^ Basney, Lionel. 175. "Five Notes on the Didactic Tradition, in Praise of Wendell Berry" in Paul Merchant, editor. Wendell Berry (American Authors Series). Lewiston, Idaho: Confluence, 1991. 174-183.
  23. ^ Berry, Wendell. "The Responsibility of the Poet." What Are People For? New York: North Point, 1990. 88.
  24. ^ Berry, Wendell. "The Responsibility of the Poet." What Are People For? New York: North Point, 1990. 89.
  25. ^ Goodrich, Janet. The Unforeseen Self in the Works of Wendell Berry. U of Missouri P, 2001. 21.
  26. ^ Fisher-Smith, Jordan. "Field Observations: An Interview with Wendell Berry".
  27. ^ Cochrane, Willard Wesley. The Development of American Agriculture: A Historical Analysis. U of Minnesota P, 1993. 122-149.
  28. ^ Berry, Wendell. "Imagination in Place." The Way of Ignorance. Washington, D. C.: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2005. 50.
  29. ^ Merchant, Paul, ed. Wendell Berry (American Authors Series). Lewiston, Idaho: Confluence, 1991.
  30. ^
  31. ^ "The Aiken Taylor Award in Modern American Poetry - The Sewanee Review". Retrieved 2009-07-13. 
  32. ^ "Forlimpopoli: arriva il poeta americano Wendell Berry". 2007-10-24. Retrieved 2009-07-13. 

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Do not think me gentle
because I speak in praise
of gentleness, or elegant
because I honor the grace
that keeps this world. I am
a man crude as any,
gross of speech, intolerant,
stubborn, angry, full
of fits and furies. That I
may have spoken well
at times, is not natural.
A wonder is what it is.
We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives, so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us.

Wendell Berry (born 5 August 1934) is an American philosopher, poet, essayist, farmer, novelist and social activist.



  • Today, local economies are being destroyed by the "pluralistic," displaced, global economy, which has no respect for what works in a locality. The global economy is built on the principle that one place can be exploited, even destroyed, for the sake of another place.
  • Once plants and animals were raised together on the same farm — which therefore neither produced unmanageable surpluses of manure, to be wasted and to pollute the water supply, nor depended on such quantities of commerical fertilizer. The genius of America farm experts is very well demonstrated here: they can take a solution and divide it neatly into two problems.
    • The Unsettling of America : Culture & Agriculture (1996), p. 62
  • The line that connects the bombing of civilian populations to the mountain removed by strip mining ... to the tortured prisoner seems to run pretty straight. We're living, it seems, in the culmination of a long warfare — warfare against human beings, other creatures and the Earth itself.
  • We Americans are not usually thought to be a submissive people, but of course we are. Why else would we allow our country to be destroyed? Why else would we be rewarding its destroyers? Why else would we all — by proxies we have given to greedy corporations and corrupt politicians — be participating in its destruction? Most of us are still too sane to piss in our own cistern, but we allow others to do so and we reward them for it. We reward them so well, in fact, that those who piss in our cistern are wealthier than the rest of us.
    How do we submit? By not being radical enough. Or by not being thorough enough, which is the same thing.

The Long-Legged House (1969)

  • When the possessions and households of citizens are no longer honored by the acts, as well as the principles, of their government, then the concentration camp ceases to be one of the possibilities of human nature and becomes one of its likelihoods.
    • "The Landscaping of Hell: Strip-Mine Morality" (1965)
  • The rule, acknowledged or not, seems to be that if we have great power we must use it. We would use a steam shovel to pick up a dime. We have experts who can prove there is no other way to do it.
    • "The Loss of the Future"
  • A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other's lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves.
    • "The Loss of the Future"
  • Far from making peace, wars invariably serve as classrooms and laboratories where men and techniques and states of mind are prepared for the next war.
    • "A Statement against the War in Vietnam"
  • If I solve my dispute with my neighbor by killing him, I have certainly solved the immediate dispute. If my neighbor was a scoundrel, then the world is no doubt better for his absence. But in killing my neighbor, though he may have been a terrible man who did not deserve to live, I have made myself a killer—and the life of my next neighbor is in greater peril than the life of the last. In making myself a killer I have destroyed the possibility of neighborhood.
    • "A Statement against the War in Vietnam"
  • We haven't accepted — we can't really believe — that the most characteristic product of our age of scientific miracles is junk, but that is so. And we still think and behave as though we face an unspoiled continent, with thousands of acres of living space for every man. We still sing 'America the Beautiful' as though we had not created in it, by strenuous effort, at great expense, and with dauntless self-praise, an unprecedented ugliness.
    • "The Rise"
  • We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives, so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us. . . We must recover the sense of the majesty of the creation and the ability to be worshipful in its presence. For it is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it.
    • "A Native Hill"

A Continuous Harmony (1972)

  • Individualism is going around these days in uniform, handing out the party line on individualism.
    • "Think Little"
  • Our model citizen is a sophisticate who before puberty understands how to produce a baby, but who at the age of thirty will not know how to produce a potato.
    • "Think Little"
  • We need better government, no doubt about it. But we also need better minds, better friendships, better marriages, better communities.
    • "Think Little"

What Are People For? (1990)

  • An art that heals and protects its subject is a geography of scars.
    • "Damage"
  • But a man with a machine and inadequate culture--such as I was when I made my pond--is a pestilence. He shakes more than he can hold.
    • "Damage"
  • Novelty is a new kind of loneliness.
    • "Healing"
  • The teachers are everywhere. What is wanted is a learner.
    • "Healing"
  • We are living even now among punishments and ruins.
  • A teacher's major contribution may pop out anonymously in the life of some ex-student's grandchild. A teacher, finally, has nothing to go on but faith, a student nothing to offer in return but testimony.
  • We are living in the most destructive and, hence, the most stupid period of the history of our species.
    • "A Poem of Difficult Hope"
  • Much protest is naive; it expects quick, visible improvement and despairs and gives up when such improvement does not come. Protesters who hold out for longer have perhaps understood that success is not the proper goal. If protest depended on success, there would be little protest of any durability or significance. History simply affords too little evidence that anyone's individual protest is of any use. Protest that endures, I think, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one's own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence.
    • "A Poem of Difficult Hope"
  • What we do need to worry about is the possibility that we will be reduced, in the face of the enormities of our time, to silence or to mere protest."
    • "A Poem of Difficult Hope"
  • Poetry can be written only because it has been written.
    • "The Responsibility of the Poet"
  • Professional standards, the standards of ambition and selfishness, are always sliding downward toward expense, ostentation, and mediocrity. They tend always to narrow the ground of judgment. But amateur standards, the standards of love, are always straining upward toward the humble and the best. They enlarge the ground of judgment. The context of love is the world.
    • "The Responsibility of the Poet"
  • The ecological teaching of the Bible is simply inescapable: God made the world because He wanted it made. He thinks the world is good, and He loves it. It is His world; He has never relinquished title to it. And He has never revoked the conditions, bearing on His gift to us of the use of it, that oblige us to take excellent care of it.
    • God and Country"
  • Rats and roaches live by competition under the laws of supply and demand; it is the privilege of human beings to live under the laws of justice and mercy.
    • "Economy and Pleasure"

Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community (1993)

  • The most alarming sign of the state of our society now is that our leaders have the courage to sacrifice the lives of young people in war, but have not the courage to tell us that we must be less greedy and less wasteful.
    • "Peaceableness Toward Enemies"

Life Is A Miracle : An Essay Against Modern Superstition (2000)

  • Never forget: We are alive within mysteries.
  • Reductionism (ultimately, the empirical explanability of everything and a cornerstone of science), has uses that are appropriate, and it also can be used inappropriately. It is appropriately used as a way (one way) of understanding what is empirically known or empirically knowable. When it becomes merely an intellectual "position" confronting what is not empirically known or knowable, then it becomes very quickly absurd, and also grossly desensitizing and false.
  • We know enough of our own history by now to be aware that people exploit what they have merely concluded to be of value, but they defend what they love. To defend what we love we need a particularizing language, for we love what we particularly know.
  • We are alive within mystery, by miracle. "Life," wrote Erwin Chargaff, "is the continual intervention of the inexplicable." We have more than we can know. We know more than we can say. The constructions of language (which is to say the constructions of thought) are formed within experience, not the other way around. Finally we live beyond words, as also we live beyond computation and beyond theory. There is no reason whatever to assume that the languages of science are less limited than other languages.

Citizenship Papers (2003)

A Citizen's Response

  • To imply by the word "terrorism" that this sort of terror is the work exclusively of "terrorists" is misleading. The "legitimate" warfare of technologically advanced nations likewise is premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against innocents.The distinction between the intention to perpetrate violence against innocents, as in "terrorism," and the willingness to do so, as in "war," is not a source of comfort.
  • Much of the obscurity of our effort so far against terrorism originates in the now official idea that the enemy is evil and that we are (therefore) good, which is the precise mirror image of the official idea of the terrorists.
  • One cannot reduce terror by holding over the world the threat of what it most fears.
  • We cannot hope to be secure when our government has declared, by its readiness "to act alone," its willingness to be everybody's enemy.
  • After World War II, we hoped the world might be united for the sake of peacemaking. Now the world is being "globalized" for the sake of trade and the so-called free market—for the sake, that is, of plundering the world for cheap labor, cheap energy, and cheap materials. How nations, let alone regions and communities, are to shape and protect themselves within this "global economy" is far from clear.
  • Our Constitution, by its separation of powers and its system of checks and balances, acts as a restraint upon efficiency by denying exclusive power to any branch of government. The logic of governmental efficiency, unchecked, runs straight on, not only to dictatorship, but also to torture, assassination, and other abominations.
  • On eroding, ecologically degraded, increasingly toxic landscapes, worked by failing or subsidy-dependent farmers and by the cheap labor of migrants, we have erected the tottering tower of "agribusiness," which prospers and "feeds the world" (incompletely and temporarily) by undermining its own foundations.
  • If we are serious about peace, then we must work for it as ardently, seriously, continuously, carefully, and bravely as we have ever prepared for war.

The Failure of War

  • If you know even as little history as I do, it is hard not to doubt the efficacy of modern war as a solution to any problem except that of retribution—the “justice” of exchanging one damage for another.
  • National defense through war always involves some degree of national defeat. This paradox has been with us from the very beginning of our republic. Militarization in defense of freedom reduces the freedom of the defenders. There is a fundamental inconsistency between war and freedom.
  • In a modern war, fought with modern weapons and on the modern scale, neither side can limit to “the enemy” the damage that it does. These wars damage the world. We know enough by now to know that you cannot damage a part of the world without damaging all of it. Modern war has not only made it impossible to kill “combatants” without killing “noncombatants,” it has made it impossible to damage your enemy without damaging yourself.
  • Our century of war, militarism, and political terror has produced great—and successful—advocates of true peace, among whom Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., are the paramount examples. The considerable success that they achieved testifies to the presence, in the midst of violence, of an authentic and powerful desire for peace and, more important, of the proven will to make the necessary sacrifices.
  • We cling in our public life to a brutal hypocrisy. In our century of almost universal violence of humans against fellow humans, and against our natural and cultural commonwealth, hypocrisy has been inescapable because our opposition to violence has been selective or merely fashionable. Some of us who approve of our monstrous military budget and our peacekeeping wars nonetheless deplore “domestic violence” and think that our society can be pacified by “gun control.” Some of us are against capital punishment but for abortion. Some of us are against abortion but for capital punishment.
  • Violence breeds violence. Acts of violence committed in “justice” or in affirmation of “rights” or in defense of “peace” do not end violence. They prepare and justify its continuation.
  • What could be more absurd, to begin with, than our attitude of high moral outrage against other nations for manufacturing the selfsame weapons that we manufacture? The difference, as our leaders say, is that we will use these weapons virtuously, whereas our enemies will use them maliciously—a proposition that too readily conforms to a proposition of much less dignity: we will use them in our interest, whereas our enemies will use them in theirs.
  • I think we must be careful about too easily accepting, or being too easily grateful for, sacrifices made by others, especially if we have made none ourselves.
  • Let us have the candor to acknowledge that what we call “the economy” or “the free market” is less and less distinguishable from warfare. For about half of the last century, we worried about world conquest by international communism. Now with less worry (so far) we are witnessing world conquest by international capitalism. Though its political means are milder (so far) than those of communism, this newly internationalized capitalism may prove even more destructive of human cultures and communities, of freedom, and of nature. Its tendency is just as much toward total dominance and control.
  • We are disposed, somewhat by culture and somewhat by nature, to solve our problems by violence, and even to enjoy doing so. And yet by now all of us must at least have suspected that our right to live, to be free, and to be at peace is not guaranteed by any act of violence. It can be guaranteed only by our willingness that all other persons should live, be free, and be at peace — and by our willingness to use or give our own lives to make that possible.
  • It is useless to try to adjudicate a long-standing animosity by asking who started it or who is the most wrong. The only sufficient answer is to give up the animosity and try forgiveness, to try to love our enemies and to talk to them and (if we pray) to pray for them. If we can't do any of that, then we must begin again by trying to imagine our enemies' children who, like our children, are in mortal danger because of enmity that they did not cause.

The Way of Ignorance (2005)

  • We Americans are not usually thought to be a submissive people, but of course we are. Why else would we allow our country to be destroyed? Why else would we be rewarding its destroyers? Why else would we all— by proxies we have given to greedy corporations and corrupt politicians— be participating in its destruction? Most of us are still too sane to piss in our own cistern, but we allow others to do so and we reward them for it. We reward them so well, in fact, that those who piss in our cistern are wealthier than the rest of us.
    • "Compromise, Hell!"
  • We need to confront honestly the issue of scale. Bigness has a charm and a drama that are seductive, especially to politicians and financiers; but bigness promotes greed, indifference, and damage, and often bigness is not necessary. You may need a large corporation to run an airline or to manufacture cars, but you don't need a large corporation to raise a chicken or a hog. You don't need a large corporation to process local food or local timber and market it locally.
    • "Compromise, Hell!"
  • In the effort to tell a whole story, to see it whole and clear, I have had to imagine more than I have known.
    • "Imagination in Place"
  • The most insistent and formidable concern of agriculture, wherever it is taken seriously, is the distinct individuality of every farm, every field on every farm, every farm family, and every creature on every farm.
    • "Imagination in Place"
  • To farm is to be placed absolutely.
    • "Imagination in Place"
  • The ability to speak exactly is intimately related to the ability to know exactly.
    • "Imagination in Place"

Given (2005)

Sabbaths 2001

  • Ask the world to reveal its quietude—
    not the silence of machines when they are still,
    but the true quiet by which birdsongs,
    trees, bellworts, snails, clouds, storms
    become what they are, and are nothing else.
  • A mind that has confronted ruin for years
    Is half or more a ruined mind.
  • Sit and be still
    until in the time
    of no rain you hear
    beneath the dry wind's
    commotion in the trees
    the sound of flowing
    water among the rocks,
    a stream unheard before,
    and you are where
    breathing is prayer.
  • Small creatures die because
    larger creatures are hungry.
    How superior to this
    human confusion of greed
    and creed, blood and fire.


  • Do not think me gentle
    because I speak in praise
    of gentleness, or elegant
    because I honor the grace
    that keeps this world. I am
    a man crude as any,
    gross of speech, intolerant,
    stubborn, angry, full
    of fits and furies. That I
    may have spoken well
    at times, is not natural.
    A wonder is what it is.
    • A Warning To My Readers
  • The poem is important, but
    not more than the people
    whose survival it serves...
    • In A Motel Parking Lot, Thinking Of Dr. Williams
  • 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.
    Give your approval to all you cannot
    understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
    has not encountered he has not destroyed.
  • As soon as the generals and the politicos
    can predict the motions of your mind,
    lose it. Leave it as a sign
    to mark the false trail, the way
    you didn't go.

    Be like the fox
    who makes more tracks than necessary,
    some in the wrong direction.
    Practice resurrection.

  • To be sane in a mad time
    is bad for the brain, worse
    for the heart."
    • "The Mad Farmer Manifesto: The First Amendment" in The Country of Marriage, 1973
  • From the union of power and money,
    from the union of power and secrecy,
    from the union of government and science,
    from the union of government and art,
    from the union of science and money,
    from the union of ambition and ignorance,
    from the union of genius and war,
    from the union of outer space and inner vacuity,
    the Mad Farmer walks quietly away.
    • "The Mad Farmer, Flying the Flag of Rough Branch, Secedes from the Union" in Entries, 1997
  • Let me say
    and not mourn: the world
    lives in the death of speech
    and sings there.
    • The Silence
  • What I stand for
    is what I stand on.
    • "Below" in A Part, 1980

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