Wendell Berry: If we have become…

September 2014

Wendell Berry
If we have become…

If we have become a people incapable
of thought, then the brute-thought
of mere power and mere greed
will think for us.

If we have become incapable
of denying ourselves anything,
then all that we have
will be taken from us.

If we have no compassion,
we will suffer alone, we will suffer
alone the destruction of ourselves.

These are merely the laws of this world
as known to Shakespeare, as known to Milton:

When we cease from human thought,
a low and effective cunning
stirs in the most inhuman minds.

Leavings: Poems

19 thoughts on “Wendell Berry: If we have become…

  1. Buddhism teaches that one must cultivate two things in equal measure to find liberation, enlightenment: prajna, direct insight into and understanding of the cause of one’s condition of suffering; and karuna, compassion for the universal community of beings that share that same condition.

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  2. In meditating on our Lord’s parable of the sheep and the goats, I have been struck at how my heart has ever wavered between both poles, and is as contradictory as the breezes that blew the plastic bag in the closing scene of American Beauty.

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  3. ““The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. … And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained.” – Alexander Solzhenitsyn

    Dana

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  4. Good quote and point, for it makes sure we don’t read a poem like this and think it’s only “everyone else” who has the problem.

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  5. +1.

    Jesus mirrored this to perfection.

    And, when the rubber meets the road, it tends to be the one thing I lack.

    Lord, please have mercy on me, a sinner.

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  6. Knowledge is as food, and needs no less
    Her temperance over appetite, to know
    In measure what the mind may well contain;
    Oppresses else with surfeit, and soon turns
    Wisdom to folly, as nourishment to wind*.

    i.e. flatulence

    John Milton – Paradise Lost , VII

    …our Declaration of Independence, …holds as “self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights . . .” Thus among our political roots we have still our old preoccupation with our definition as humans, which in the Declaration is wisely assigned to our Creator; our rights and the rights of all humans are not granted by any human government but are innate, belonging to us by birth. This insistence comes not from the fear of death or even extinction but from the ancient fear that in order to survive we might become…monstrous.

    Wendell Berry, Faustian Economics

    Speak on,’ said Oyarsa to Weston.
    Me ….. no…’ began Weston in Malacandrian and then broke off: ‘I
    can’t say what I want in their accursed language,’

    CS Lewis, Out Of The Silent Planet

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  7. Knowledge is as food, and needs no less
    Her temperance over appetite, to know
    In measure what the mind may well contain;
    Oppresses else with surfeit, and soon turns
    Wisdom to folly, as nourishment to wind*.

    i.e. flatulence

    John Milton – Paradise Lost , VII

    …our Declaration of Independence, …holds as “self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights . . .” Thus among our political roots we have still our old preoccupation with our definition as humans, which in the Declaration is wisely assigned to our Creator; our rights and the rights of all humans are not granted by any human government but are innate, belonging to us by birth. This insistence comes not from the fear of death or even extinction but from the ancient fear that in order to survive we might become…monstrous.

    Wendell Berry, Faustian Economics

    Speak on,’ said Oyarsa to Weston.
    Me ….. no…’ began Weston in Malacandrian and then broke off: ‘I
    can’t say what I want in their accursed language,’

    CS Lewis, Out Of The Silent Planet

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  8. “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in the stars but in ourselves”. Quoting by memory but the decline of the study of literature does not bode well. I went to a poor inner city school and we studied Shakespeare and I think of that often as I grew to love the writings.. After the Bible, it has probably had more impact on my thinking than any thing else. Good post .

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  9. “””When we cease from human thought,
    a low and effective cunning
    stirs in the most inhuman minds”””

    Truth.

    Double damning; I suspect even dogs understand “If we have no compassion, we will suffer alone,…”

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  10. Every age is different, and the same. We are a people, yet not a people. Cunning and compassion frequent the same hearts, like an odd couple.

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  11. “as known to Shakespeare, as known to Milton:

    When we cease from human thought,
    a low and effective cunning
    stirs in the most inhuman minds”

    ““Th’ infernal Serpent; he it was, whose guile stird up with Envy and Revenge, deceiv’d the Mother of Mankind”
    (Milton, ‘Paradise Lost’)

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