If Wendell Berry were awarded a Nobel, would it be for peace or for literature? Even the economics prize wouldn’t be a stretch for this diversified Kentucky farmer and long-time advocate of sustainable, small-scale enterprises. These several and intimately related concerns shine forth in This Day: Collected and New Sabbath Poems (Counterpoint, $30). Including and continuing from the 1997 A Timbered Choir, this volume contains the thirty-three years (so far) of Berry’s Sunday meditations, from 1979 to the present. His project is simple: on Sundays, he says, “I go among trees and sit still.” He listens, looks, thinks, and writes. His subjects are what nature and the quiet bring to mind, which could be passing time, work done or to be done, love, loss, or human folly. Berry has a deep and flexible sense of the spiritual, which for him embraces both this world and the next, the known and the unknown; it does not include religious orthodoxy and he doesn’t preach or proselytize. If many of these pieces, like psalms, seem equal parts prayer and hymn, they are also impeccably crafted poems, grounded in meter, rhyme, and repetition; they are themselves part of the “inventory / of wonders and of uncommon goods” they celebrate and delight in.
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