I’m currently reading Wendell Berry’s “The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture”, and I stumbled across this poem in the midst of ponderous prose. Written by Edwin Muir, it is a thought-provoking piece that I had to read over a few times before the true meaning of it really started to sink in.
Men are made of what is made,
The meat, the drink, the life, the corn,
Laid up by them, in them reborn,
And self-begotten cycles close
About our way; indigenous art
And simple spells make unafraid
The haunted labyrinths of the heart
And with our wild succession braid
The resurrection of the rose.
Take a moment. Read that over a few times. Chew on it.
The growth of the exploters’ revolution on this continent has been accompanied by the growth of the idea that work is beneath human dignity, particularly any form of hard work. We have made it our overriding ambition to escape work, and as a consequence have debased work until it is only fit to escape from. We have debased the products of work and have been, in turn, debased by them.
But is work something that we have a right to escape? And can we escape it with impunity? We are probably the first entire people ever to think so.
We have tried to escape the sweat and sorrow promised in Genesis — only to find that, in order to do so, we must forswear love and excellence, health and joy.
And just as a reminder, there’s always Ecclesiastes 3:1-15…
To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born,
and a time to die;
A time to plant,
and a time to plucked what is planted.
A time to kill,
and a time to heal;
A time to break down,
and a time to build up.
A time to weep,
and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn,
and a time to dance.
A time to cast away stones,
and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace,
and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain,
and a time to lose;
A time to keep,
and a time to throw away;
A time to tear,
and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence,
and a time to speak.
A time to love,
and a time to hate;
A time of war,
and a time of peace.
What profit has the worker from that in which he labors? I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.
I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor — it is the gift of God.
I know that whatever God does,
It shall be forever.
Nothing can be added to it,
And nothing taken from it.
God does it, that men should fear before Him.
That which is has already been,
And what is to be has already been;
And God requires an account of what is past.
And on that note… I’m off to keep pondering.