Wendell Berry is a farmer first in north central Kentucky. Of his many accolades and recognitions – in 2012 he delivered the Jefferson Lecture, reserved for “distinguished intellectual achievement” in the humanities – his roots as a farmer and writer have provided a unique voice in American literature and political thought for over 40 years. In 1968, like many of his peers, he spoke out definitively against the Vietnam War:
We seek to preserve peace by fighting a war, or to advance freedom by subsidizing dictatorships, or to ‘win the hearts and minds of the people’ by poisoning their crops and burning their villages and confining them in concentration camps; we seek to uphold the ‘truth’ of our cause with lies, or to answer conscientious dissent with threats and slurs and intimidations. . . . I have come to the realization that I can no longer imagine a war that I would believe to be either useful or necessary. I would be against any war.
His ethos has been summarized that “humans must learn to live in harmony with the natural rhythms of the earth or perish.” Berry himself summarizes his activism against “the two great aims of industrialism — replacement of people by technology and concentration of wealth into the hands of a small plutocracy — [which] seem close to fulfillment.” In a recent interview with Bill Moyers, Berry states: “People who own the world outright for profit will have to be stopped; by influence, by power, by us.”
Enjoy Berry’s reading of his poem, “The Peace of Wild Things.”
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.