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Invaders of Our Land

Wendell Berry is, without doubt, the poetic star of environmentalism. I do not know of any other poet of his stature in the present or past who has taken his stand, as the Agrarians said they did, and stood by it so steadfastly into his 60's. In fact, his farmer-poet representation of himself may be his most impressive creation, perhaps more than anything else the source of the attention he has received. Not a bad thing for such a worthy cause. But what about the poetry?

In the first sentence of "The Apple Tree," the first poem in Selected Poems, he refers to "the essential prose in things," and we know immediately that he is not going to proceed along the lines of that great sophisticate, Wallace Stevens, who insisted on "the essential gaudiness of poetry." An approximation of this dichotomy runs through American prose and poetry, the two sides knitting back and forth, correcting each other's excesses, and we can be grateful that the fabric of American meaning is so varied and rich in texture and design.

Specifically, there are 100 poems in Selected Poems, taken from nine of Berry's 14 listed books of poetry. To me, the long poems are the best, for, with some exceptions, the short ones do not give us "the immortal wound from which you will never recover," as Robert Frost said, and did in such classics as "Nothing Gold Can Stay," "Fire...

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