Beyond This Final House

The ever-inspiring blog, Hermitary [] focuses on a poem by the also inspiring American writer, Wendell Berry.

“Berry is a farmer (and poet, teacher, essayist) — this sentiment is close to the heart of the farmer, for it affirms the permanence (to the degree that anything has) of land, of soil that returns labor with harvest, that preserves health and bounty, that stretches the spirit into nature itself. (Here land has the “permanence” that the ancient Chinese ascribed to “heaven and earth.”)

Like the farmer, too, a house well-made, overlooking fine land, nourishing to creatures, blessed with clean water, vistas to the surrounding mountains and forest, sky and stars, complements the farmer’s sense of perpetuity and identification with nature and the grand cycles of existence. In this regard one can conjure the images of villages and farms depicted in Lao-tzu (Tao te ching, 80) when he describes the inhabitants of an ideal society in conformity with the Tao:

They truly love their homes,
so they have no interest in travel.
There may be some carts or boats,
but these don’t go anywhere.

Everything is ordered and predictable, and that is what the farmer in Berry would seek in his final house.”
Wendell Berry (born August 5, 1934) is an American man of letters, academic, cultural and economic critic, and farmer. He is a prolific author of novels, short stories, poems, and essays.

Beyond this final house
I’ll make no journeys, that is
the nature of this place,
I came here old; the house contains
the shade of its walls,
a fire in winter; I know
from what direction to expect the wind;
I move in the descent
of days from what was dreamed
to what remains.
In the stillness of this single place
where I’m resigned to die
I’m not free of journeys:
one eye watches while the other sleeps
– every day is a day’s remove
from what I know.

This is truly the Hermit’s aspiration: the Hermitage is the “final place”.

Or, perhaps in the words of the great Anglo-Catholic poet, T.S. Eliot;

“With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;”

“Critics and scholars have acknowledged Wendell Berry as a master of many literary genres, but whether he is writing poetry, fiction, or essays, his message is essentially the same: humans must learn to live in harmony with the natural rhythms of the earth or perish. The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, which analyzes the many failures of modern, mechanized life, is one of the key texts of the environmental movement, but Berry, a political maverick, has criticized environmentalists as well as those involved with big businesses and land development. In his opinion, many environmentalists place too much emphasis on wild lands without acknowledging the importance of agriculture to our society.”


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