This week’s poem is the first suggested by a reader. Wendell Berry is a farmer and poet whose interest in the environment seems particularly important at a time when the EPA is under threat. Of Berry, our reader writes, “He’s pretty touted in Christian circles, but I don’t think they really know how rebellious he is, especially about environmental issues. ‘The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer’ helped me out of that toxic Christian subculture.”
The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer
by Wendell Berry
I am done with apologies. If contrariness is my inheritance and destiny, so be it. If it is my mission to go in at exits and come out at entrances, so be it. I have planted by the stars in defiance of the experts, and tilled somewhat by incantation and by singing, and reaped, as I knew, by luck and Heaven's favor, in spite of the best advice. If I have been caught so often laughing at funerals, that was because I knew the dead were already slipping away, preparing a comeback, and can I help it? And if at weddings I have gritted and gnashed my teeth, it was because I knew where the bridegroom had sunk his manhood, and knew it would not be resurrected by a piece of cake. ‘Dance,’ they told me, and I stood still, and while they stood quiet in line at the gate of the Kingdom, I danced. ‘Pray,’ they said, and I laughed, covering myself in the earth's brightnesses, and then stole off gray into the midst of a revel, and prayed like an orphan. When they said, ‘I know my Redeemer liveth,’ I told them, ‘He's dead.’ And when they told me ‘God is dead,’ I answered, ‘He goes fishing every day in the Kentucky River. I see Him often.’ When they asked me would I like to contribute I said no, and when they had collected more than they needed, I gave them as much as I had. When they asked me to join them I wouldn't, and then went off by myself and did more than they would have asked. ‘Well, then,’ they said ‘go and organize the International Brotherhood of Contraries,’ and I said, ‘Did you finish killing everybody who was against peace?’ So be it. Going against men, I have heard at times a deep harmony thrumming in the mixture, and when they ask me what I say I don't know. It is not the only or the easiest way to come to the truth. It is one way.