The Unforeseen Self in the Works of Wendell Berry

By Janet Goodrich | Go to book overview
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4

The Prophet

In snow I wait
and sing of the braided
song I only partly hear. (C, 47)

In these lines of “From the Crest, Berry the prophet gives voice to his governing faith in an order that includes the fragments of experience discernible to ordinary human perception. 1. The prophet's autobiography is a “braided song” only partly heard. It is the story of three “strands” of concern, each of them religious or moral, each in its turn gravitating to the thematic center of Berry's writing, each seeking definition in relation to the others: love for nature, love for people, and the structure and historical authority of an organizing religious tradition. These are the three elements articulated in the atonement metaphor of “Discipline and Hope.” It is the prophet or seer in Berry who searches for, and believes in, a coherent whole that organizes and integrates all three. Writing becomes for Berry a means of realizing this order by articulating connections. As he puts it in Home Economics (1987), his work continually constructs “an argument that [he] began twenty or so years ago. The subject of the argument is the fact, and ultimately the faith, that things connect—that we are wholly dependent on a pattern, an all-inclusive form, that we partly understand” (HE, ix). As a prophet, Berry in writing this argument writes his autobiography.

Berry's work of the sixties depicts a prophet whose perception of na-

____________________
1.
Readers frequently speak of Berry as a prophet. Page Smith in the Christian Science Monitor declares him the prophetic American voice” (back of Fidelity); Edward Abbey dubs him “our contemporary Isaiah” (back of The Unsettling of America); the Lexington Herald-Leader titles a review of his work “Authentic prophet.”

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