Liberty Hyde Bailey – Poet and Prophet for Our Times

March 14, 2014 — Leave a comment

 

Page 3: Liberty Hyde Bailey – Poet and Prophet for Our Times

In contrast to the dominant culture, Bailey envisions a culture grounded in an alternative consciousness (to use Brueggemann’s term).  Although there is no evidence that Bailey was sympathetic to the monastic tradition, it seems that his alternate vision resonates with the traditional Benedictine virtues of prayer and work (“Ora et Labora”).  These virtues of reverent contemplation and diligent working of the Earth will be useful for us in describing the ethics that Bailey proposes to guide us toward the eschatological reconciliation.

Prayer in Bailey’s poetic vision is rooted in our humility.  One should especially note this word’s root humus, meaning earth.  Such an earthiness is a fundamental virtue of Bailey’s thought, and is manifested in the virtue of connectedness as described above.  The posture of our prayerful humility, says Bailey, is silence: “We need now and then to take ourselves away from men and the crowd and conventionalities, and go into the silence, for the silence is the greatest of teachers” (OTN 36).  This posture is also reflected in poems like “Discovery” (“…I went into my questioned heart, my heart of hopes and fears – I found the perfect silence there, the silence of the years.”) and “Majesty.”  Bailey also addresses the energizing role of contemplative prayer in “Horizon”:

Lift me out of my laboring day

Lift me up to the blue and away

And let me discover my own horizon line,

Then drop me back to my work and play

And the far ends of the world in my day shall shine.

 

Indeed, for Bailey the rightful state of all creation is prayer; e.g., see “Prayer”:

How sweet the world at sunrise was

How fresh the breezes lay

How joyously the song-birds prayed

To herald in my day!

 

But perhaps the heart of Bailey’s ethical vision – the intertwining of prayer and work – is embodied in “Country Church”:

And out of it all

As the seasons fall

I build my great temple alway;

I point to the skies,

But my footstone lies

In commonplace work of the day;

For I preach the worth

Of the native earth, –

To love and to work is to pray.

 

I recently had the opportunity to share a few words at the funeral of my grandfather, a lifelong farmer.  I read this poem to his rural church congregation there and encouraged them that Bailey’s vision as expressed here captures the essence of our gathered obedience to the way of Christ.  A church community – rural, urban or otherwise – can, in my estimation, do no better than to set their sights on embodying such a prayerful, diligent and connected life, as is depicted in Bailey’s “Country Church.”  Bailey also advocates the virtues of work through the image of the well-worn hands of the farmer in “Hands” or in “Farmer’s Challenge.”

Ultimately, the tone of Bailey’s prophetic vision is one of hope. We see this hope set forth best in “The Signs of Life”:

The gaps fill in; the earth is rife

With energy that mastereth –

The upwards signs of birth and life

Are greater than the signs of death.

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