Openings: Poems by Wendell Berry

Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968. First Edition

Summary, from front flap:

The poems brought together in Openings are those of an American, a countryman, a husband and a father- a man who is deeply concerned about the pass to which his nation has come.

As a countryman, acutely and continuously aware of the natural world, Wendell Berry writes not just to celebrate the satisfactions it offers, although he does this notably well; he speaks about the use and abuse of our environment, about the violence we arrogantly inflict upon it to the increasing peril of all life on the planet. As a citizen he writes about a man’s responsibility toward himself and his fellow men, and about certain manifestations of American power, most notably in Vietnam. But if there is anger in some of these poems, there is no despair, and in others there is hope- and humor, too. As husband, Wendell Berry writes love poems that are both tender and passionate; as a father, he writes of parenthood. And in an extended sequence entitled “Window Poems”- possibly the most substantial and impressive poetic work he has yet achieved- he weaves into a kind of fugue all the dominant themes of his book.

Subtleties of thought and language open out beyond the surface simplicity of these poems, whose lucidity, directness, and moving eloquence give them an uncommonly strong and wide appeal.

My thoughts:

I don’t know how to phrase my thoughts about Openings. This volume blended antiwar poetry with illuminating poems, like “Before Dark” and “October 10.” As the final installment of my Wendell Berry poetry adventure, Openings is my favorite due to it’s enlightening nature.

The antiwar sentiment expressed throughout this volume comes across loud and clear. “Dark with Power” was the poem that is the most angry of them all, even next to “Against the War in Viet Nam.” This is because “Dark with Power” is raw and unforgiving. The last stanza of the poem, Fed with dying, we gaze/ on our might’s monuments of fire./ The world dangles from us/ while we gaze calls the ugliest pictures to my mind. Berry, such a lover of nature, conjures an image of burning valleys, villages, and people, which reveals his hatred of what was happening. Berry despairs at the lack of empathy in the government and humanity. Instead of outright calling the perpetrators of Vietnam monsters- he says We are carried in the belly/ of what we have become. The reader is left to imagine a great howling monster prowling the countryside. Berry does not deny himself the guilt of Vietnam, but he does allow himself the grief of being a part of a people capable of such despicable destruction.
With this said, the beauty of other poems in Openings can’t be denied. “October 10” is a poem early on in the volume, and it brings alive the transition from summer to fall. “April Woods: Morning” gives life to early spring and “The Meadow” is about life in a place where there was none before. One of the love poems in this book, “Marriage,” showcases the adoration Berry has for his wife. “Before Dark” was my favorite poem in this whole book.
I hope you have enjoyed reading my thoughts about Wendell Berry’s poetry over the last few weeks. While there are a great many volumes of his work I have yet to read, this was the limits of my local library. I encourage you to recommend me other poets I may enjoy- and I hope to explore more poets like this in the future.

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