Wendell Berry – The Farm [Review]

October 11, 2018 — Leave a comment

 

“This Kindly Working Love”
 
A Review of 
 

The Farm
Wendell Berry

 
Hardback: Counterpoint, 2018
Buy Now: [ Amazon ]
 
Reviewed by C. Christopher Smith
 
 
The newly released book The Farm by Wendell Berry is a worthwhile purchase simply for its beauty. A trade reprint of the hard-to-find letterpress edition by Kentucky’s Larkspur Press, this new book retains the elegance of the original in both its design and its monochrome drawings by Carolyn Whitesel.

The sole content of the book is the long poem that gives the book its title, which is at once a depiction of a farm and its workings (presumably based on Berry’s own farm), and rich wisdom on how to run a farm sustainably – from maintaining woodlands to cultivating cornfields to keeping a garden.

The intermingling of biodiverse relationships between humans, land, plants, and animals in this poem, is reminiscent of what I experienced on my grandparents’ small-to-medium-sized Iowa farm a generation ago. Berry’s vision of the farm, while frank about the intensive labor it requires (“There is no end to work — /… / One job completed shows / Another to be done.”), is compelling in the image of farm life that it conjures.

Like most good books, The Farm poses more questions than it answers. What, for instance, is the role of this sort of small farm in an increasingly urban world? To what extent is Berry’s vision nostalgic for an age that can never be recovered, or to what extent is he offering necessary wisdom for the sustainable future of creation? Is there wisdom here about humanity, other creatures, and the land that we might draw upon in contexts other than the small, rural family farm?






It seems at the very heart of this work, Berry is describing a way of being, one rooted in the love of and care for a particular place:

Be thankful and repay
Growth with good work and care.
Work done in gratitude,
Kindly, and well, is prayer.
You did not make yourself,
Yet you must keep yourself
By use of other lives.
No gratitude atones
For bad use or too much.

This is not work for hire
By this expenditure
You make yourself a place;
You make yourself a way
For love to reach the ground.
In its ambition and
Its greed, its violence,
The world is turned against
This possibility,
And yet the world survives
By the survival of
This kindly working love.

 

This is a vision, deeply rooted in the Christian tradition, is one to which we all – farmers or not – should aspire.

——-
C. Christopher Smith is Senior Editor of The Englewood Review of Books, co-author (with John Pattision) of Slow Church (2014), and author of the forthcoming book, How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Spring 2019).