Friday, August 14, 2015

A Comfort of Sorts

This passage from Wendell Berry's poem, "The Handing Down", spoke to me:

6. The new house
At the foot of his long shadow
he walked across the town
early in the morning

to watch the carpenters at work
on a new house. The saws released
the warm pine-smell into the air

--the scent of time to come, freshly
opened. He was comforted by that,
and by the new unblemished wood.

That time goes, making
the jointures of households, for better
or worse, is no comfort.

That, for the men and women
still to be born, time is coming
is a comfort of sorts.

That there's a little of the good
left over from a few lives
is a comfort of sorts.

He has grown eager
in his love for the good dead
and all the unborn.

That failed hope
doesn't prove the failure of hope
is a comfort of sorts.

Grown old and wise, he takes
what comfort he can get, as gladly as once
he'd have taken the comfort he wished for.

For a man knowing evil--how surely
it grows up in any ground and makes seed--
the building of a house is a craft indeed.
If it speaks to you, too, I'm glad. I'm taking this chance to update a poem I wrote as a missionary. Parts of it I love, as it captures an internal picture of my experience meeting different people in Italy. Parts of it I knew even then were forced--just like I sometimes tried to force spiritual experiences in my life. I'm sensitive to potentially judgmental aspects of it. But parts of it were real, and some parts still ring true to me today.


I look at you and smile. I seek your eyes
That you don’t want to give me, fearing I
Could touch your soul? or open to your mind
A change that you did not desire to find?

You pass me by, look up and down and up
Again to see my clothes and skin, but stop
Before you reach my eyes. Am I a ped-
dler pushing wears? A brainwashed zealot fed
Too full of words to ever reason right?

You miss the light that shines in darkest night,
The eye that’s single lights with love and hope
The soul so weak and fragile, always grop-
ing for God’s strength to lift a brother just
Like you, for my strength fails, and yours to dust

You look me in the eyes for min-
utes at a time, but never see what’s in
My mind. You’ve let your eyes grow vacant. Time
And woe and death and hate and all the slime
Of man’s invention leave a hollow shell
Behind your eyes, sunk so deep in a well
That light is darkness to your eyes.

                                                   My friends,
What do you see there in my eyes? Some trace
Of friendship’s gentle kindness, friendship’s might,
Of love’s sweet promise, love’s enduring light?

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