Tuesday Poem

The Wages of History

Men’s negligence and their
fatuous ignorance and abuse
have made a hardship of this earth.
Living on these plundered
hillsides of Kentucky is harder
for crops and for men too
than the terraced slopes
of Tuscany or Japan, where care
has had a history centuries
old. As if chance and death
and sorrow were not enough,
we must contend with stones
laid bare by the dream of
ease to be found in money, as if
our forefathers dug in the dark
virgin loam for gold, and found
only bare stones and the grave’s
ease. Doomed, bound and doomed
to the repair of history or to death
we must cover over the stones
with soil for tomorrow’s bread
while the present eludes us.
For generations to come we will not
know the decency and the poised ease
of living any day for that day’s sake,
or be graceful here like the wild
flowers blooming in the fields,
but must live drawn out and nearly
broken between past and future
because of our history’s wages,
bad work left behind us,
demanding to be done again.

by Wendell Berry
Farming-A Hand Book
Harvest Books, 1967