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POTW: Quintessential Wendell Berry

“Manifesto: Mad Farmer Liberation Front”
Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise, vacation with pay.
Want more of everything ready-made.
Be afraid to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.

Not even your future will be a mystery anymore.
Your mind will be punched in a card and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something they will call you.
When they want you to die for profit they will let you know.

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.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees every thousand years.

Listen to carrion — put your ear close,
and hear the faint chattering of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable.
Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.

So long as women do not go cheap for power,
please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade.
Rest your head in her lap.
Swear allegiance to what is nighest your thoughts.

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.

“Manifesto: Mad Farmer Liberation Front” strikes me as quintessential Wendell Berry, a description of all he values and embodies, those virtues to which he calls the rest of the world. It certainly has become a favorite of mine, a challenge to live differently, better.

The poem moves with a slow intentionality, beautifully matching form and content. Beginning with a troubling description of modern life – driven by money, benefits, and consumerism – Berry then beckons the reader to those things that truly matter. The world, with its calls for more (“When they want you to buy something they will call you. When they want you to die for profit they will let you know.”) fade from view while, line by line, we are drawn to the things that “won’t compute.”

The succesive stanzas carry the reader back to love, mystery, creation, nature, laughter, and joy. Berry reminds us of the beauty of family and place, while warning of the deceptiveness and danger of power. We pass from death (“Be afraid to know your neighbors and to die”) to life, ending with the haunting charge to “Practice resurrection.”

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