Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Wendell Berry

American Man of Letters, Academic, Cultural and Economic Critic, Farmer and Author of Novels, Short Stories, Poems and Essays

"As the connections have been broken by the fragmentation and isolation of work, they can be restored by restoring the wholeness of work. There is work that is isolating, harsh, destructive, specialized or trivialized into meaninglessness. And there is work that is restorative, convivial, dignified and dignifying, and pleasing. Good work is not just the maintenance of connections - as one is now said to work "for a living" or "to support a family" - but the enactment of connections. It is living, and a way of living; it is not support for a family in the sense of an exterior brace or prop, but is one of the forms and acts of love."

"As I understand it, I am being paid only for my work in arranging the words; my property is that arrangement. The thoughts in this book, on the contrary, are not mine. They came freely to me, and I give them freely away. I have no intellectual property, and I think that all claimants to such property are thieves."

"As industrial technology advances and enlarges, and in the process assumes greater social, economic, and political force, it carries people away from where they belong by history, culture, deeds, association and affection."

"As soon as the generals and the politicos can predict the motions of your mind, lose it. Leave it as a sign to mark the false trail, the way you didn't go. Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction. Practice resurrection."

"Ask the questions that have no answers. Invest in the millenium."

"At the window he sits and looks out, musing on the river, a little brown hen duck paddling upstream among the wind waves close to the far bank. What he has understood lies behind him like a road in the woods. He is a wilderness looking out at the wild."

"Battle with unconditioned breath the unconditioned air. Shun electric wire. Communicate slowly. Live a three-dimensional life; stay away from screens."

"Ask the world to reveal its quietude — not the silence of machines when they are still, but the true quiet by which birdsongs, trees, bellworts, snails, clouds, storms become what they are, and are nothing else."

"Be joyful because it is humanly possible."

"Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction. Practice resurrection."

"Beauty . . . cannot be interpreted. It is not an empirically verifiable fact; it is not a quantity."

"Biotechnology, variety patenting, and other agribusiness innovations are intended not to help farmers or consumers but to extend and prolong corporate control of the food economy; they will increase the cost of food, both economically and ecologically."

"But even in the much-publicized rebellion of the young against the materialism of the affluent society, the consumer mentality is too often still intact: the standards of behavior are still those of kind and quantity, the security sought is still the security of numbers, and the chief motive is still the consumer's anxiety that he is missing out on what is "in." In this state of total consumerism - which is to say a state of helpless dependence on things and services and ideas and motives that we have forgotten how to provide ourselves - all meaningful contact between ourselves and the earth is broken. We do not understand the earth in terms either of what it offers us or of what it requires of us, and I think it is the rule that people inevitably destroy what they do not understand."

"Better than any argument is to rise at dawn and pick dew-wet red berries in a cup."

"But let us…abandon our superstitious beliefs about knowledge: that it is ever sufficient; that it can of itself solve problems; that it is intrinsically good; that it can be used objectively or disinterestedly. Let us acknowledge that the objective or disinterested researcher is always on the side that pays best."

"By this time, the era of cut-and-run economics ought to be finished. Such an economy cannot be rationally defended or even apologized for. The proofs of its immense folly, heartlessness, and destructiveness are everywhere. Its failure as a way of dealing with the natural world and human society can no longer be sanely denied. That this economic system persists and grows larger and stronger in spite of its evident failure has nothing to do with rationality or, for that matter, with evidence. It persists because, embodied now in multinational corporations, it has discovered a terrifying truth: If you can control a people’s economy, you don’t need to worry about its politics; its politics have become irrelevant. If you control people’s choices as to whether or not they will work, and where they will work, and what they will do, and how well they will do it, and what they will eat and wear, and the genetic makeup of their crops and animals, and what they will do for amusement, then why should you worry about freedom of speech? In a totalitarian economy, any "political liberties" that the people might retain would simply cease to matter. If, as is often the case already, nobody can be elected who is not wealthy, and if nobody can be wealthy without dependence on the corporate economy, then what is your vote worth? The citizen thus becomes an economic subject."

"But love, sooner or later, forces us out of time. It does not accept that limit. Of all that we feel and do, all the virtues and all the sins, love alone crowds us at last over the edge of the world. For love is always more than a little strange here. It is not explainable or even justifiable. It is itself the justifier. We do not make it. If it did not happen to us, we could not imagine it. It includes the world and time as a pregnant woman includes her child whose wrongs she will suffer and forgive. It is in the world but is not altogether of it. It is of eternity. It takes us there when it most holds us here."

"Charity even for one person does not make sense except in terms of an effort to love all Creation in response to the Creator's love for it."

"Can we actually suppose that we are wasting, polluting, and making ugly this beautiful land for the sake of patriotism and the love of God? Perhaps some of us would like to think so, but in fact this destruction is taking place because we have allowed ourselves to believe, and to live, a mated pair of economic lies: that nothing has a value that is not assigned to it by the market; and that the economic life of our communities can safely be handed over to the great corporations."

"Connection is health. And what our society does its best to disguise from us is how ordinary, how commonly attainable, health is. We lose our health - and create profitable diseases and dependences - by failing to see the direct connections between living and eating, eating and working, working and loving. In gardening, for instance, one works with the body to feed the body. The work, if it is knowledgeable, makes for excellent food. And it makes one hungry. The work thus makes eating both nourishing and joyful, not consumptive, and keeps the eater from getting fat and weak. This is health, wholeness, a source of delight."

"Community, then, is an indispensable term in any discussion of the connection between people and land. A healthy community is a form that includes all the local things that are connected by the larger, ultimately mysterious form of the Creation. In speaking of community, then, we are speaking of a complex connection not only among human beings or between humans and their homeland but also between human economy and nature, between forest or prairie and field or orchard, and between troublesome creatures and pleasant ones. All neighbors are included. (pg. 202-203, Conservation and Local Economy)"

"Creation is thus God's presence in creatures. The Greek Orthodox theologian Philip Sherrard has written that Creation is nothing less than the manifestation of God's hidden Being. This means that we and all other creatures live by a sanctity that is inexpressibly intimate, for to every creature, the gift of life is a portion of the breath and spirit of God. (pg. 308, Christianity and the Survival of Creation)"

"Don't own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire."

"Eating is an agricultural act."

"Do not think me gentle because I speak in praise of gentleness, or elegant because I honor the grace that keeps this world. I am a man crude as any, gross of speech, intolerant, stubborn, angry, full of fits and furies. That I may have spoken well at times, is not natural. A wonder is what it is."

"Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you."

"Eating with the fullest pleasure - pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance - is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend."

"Every day do something that won't compute. Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing. Love someone who doesn't deserve it. Plant sequoias. Be joyful even though you've considered the facts. Practice resurrection."

"For any sin, we all suffer. That is why our suffering is endless."

"Give your approval to all you cannot understand. Praise ignorance, for what man has not encountered he has not destroyed."

"Good farmers, who take seriously their duties as stewards of Creation and of their land's inheritors, contribute to the welfare of society in more ways than society usually acknowledges, or even knows. These farmers produce valuable goods, of course; but they also conserve soil, they conserve water, they conserve wildlife, they conserve open space, they conserve scenery."

"Good human work honors God's work. Good work uses nothing without respect, both for what it is in itself and for its origin. It uses neither tool nor material that it does not respect and that it does not love. It honors nature as a great mystery and power, as an indispensable teacher, and as the inescapable judge of all work of human hands. It does not dissociate life and work, or pleasure and work, or love and work, or usefulness and beauty. To work without pleasure or affection, to make a product that is not both useful and beautiful, is to dishonor God, nature, the thing that is made, and whomever it is made for. This is blasphemy: to make shoddy work of the work of God. But such blasphemy is not possible when the entire Creation is understood as holy and when the works of God are understood as embodying and thus revealing His spirit."

"He had nothing he could do with is life's work now except leave it to a man who thought nothing of it."

"He imagines a necessary joy in things that must fly to eat."

"For the sake of job creation, in Kentucky, and in other backward states, we have lavished public money on corporations that come in and stay only so long as they can exploit people here more cheaply than elsewhere. The general purpose of the present economy is to exploit, not to foster or conserve."

"Far from making peace, wars invariably serve as classrooms and laboratories where men and techniques and states of mind are prepared for the next war."

"For the true measure of agriculture is not the sophistication of its equipment the size of its income or even the statistics of its productivity but the good health of the land."

"Geese appear high over us, pass, and the sky closes. Abandon, as in love or sleep, holds them to their way, clear in the ancient faith: what we need is here. And we pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye, clear. What we need is here."

"From the union of power and money, from the union of power and secrecy, from the union of government and science, from the union of government and art, from the union of science and money, from the union of ambition and ignorance, from the union of genius and war, from the union of outer space and inner vacuity, the Mad Farmer walks quietly away."

"He wasn't much of a listener, not a great payer of attention to things outside his head."

"Here, then, is a prime example of the futility of a dependence on information. We cannot contain what contains us or comprehend what comprehends us."

"How to be a Poet (to remind myself) - Make a place to sit down. Sit down. Be quiet. You must depend upon affection, reading, knowledge, skill-more of each than you have-inspiration work, growing older, patience, for patience joins time to eternity… Breathe with unconditional breath the unconditioned air. Shun electric wire. Communicate slowly. Live a three-dimensional life; stay away from screens. Stay away from anything that obscures the place it is in. There are so unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places. Accept what comes from silence. Make the best you can of it. Of the little words that come out of the silence, like prayers prayed back to the one who prays, make a poem that does not disturb the silence from which it came."

"I am not bound for any public place, but for ground of my own where I have planted vines and orchard trees, and in the heat of the day climbed up into the healing shadow of the woods. Better than any argument is to rise at dawn and pick dew-wet red berries in a cup."

"How joyful to be together, alone as when we first were joined in our little house by the river long ago, except that now we know each other, as we did not then; and now instead of two stories fumbling to meet, we belong to one story that the two, joining, made. And now we touch each other with the tenderness of mortals, who know themselves."

"History overflows time. Love overflows the allowance of the world. All the vessels overflow, and no end or limit stays put. Every shakable thing has got to be shaken. In a sense, nothing that was ever lost in Port William ever has been replaced. In another sense, nothing is ever lost, and we are compacted together forever, even by our failures, our regrets, and our longings."

"How do we submit? By not being radical enough. Or by not being thorough enough, which is the same thing."

"Healing is impossible in loneliness; it is the opposite of loneliness. Conviviality is healing. To be healed we must come with all the other creatures to the feast of Creation."

"He never complained. He seemed to have no instinct for the making much of oneself that complaining requires."

"History leaves no doubt that among of the most regrettable crimes committed by human beings have been committed by those human beings who thought of themselves as civilized. What, we must ask, does our civilization possess that is worth defending? One thing worth defending, I suggest, is the imperative to imagine the lives of beings who are not ourselves and are not like ourselves: animals, plants, gods, spirits, people of other countries, other races, people of the other sex, places and enemies."

"I am speaking of the life of a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children; who has undertaken to cherish it and do it no damage, not because he is duty-bound, but because he loves the world and loves his children; whose work serves the earth he lives on and from and with, and is therefore pleasurable and meaningful and unending; whose rewards are not deferred until "retirement," but arrive daily and seasonally out of the details of the life of their place; whose goal is the continuance of the life of the world, which for a while animates and contains them, and which they know they can never compass with their understanding or desire."