The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Country of Marriage” is a pastoral lyric in free verse with seventy-eight lines and seven irregular stanzas. The title suggests the poem’s dual celebration of country life and marriage. Both farming and marriage are valued as complementary expressions of love, fidelity, trust, and commitment. The poem is written in the first person, using the Berry persona of the “Mad Farmer,” who reflects Berry’s agrarian perspective. It is implicitly addressed to Berry’s wife, Tanya, as a love poem, though she is not named directly but addressed throughout the poem in the second person.

As a poem about courtship, marriage, and the married life, “The Country of Marriage” echoes the form and sentiments of Edmund Spenser’s “Epithalamion” (epithalamion means “wedding song or poem”). Berry, however, forsakes Spenser’s classical allusions in favor of pastoral images drawn directly from the Berrys’ marriage and life together on their Kentucky farm.

Stanza 1 opens with a dream: The speaker envisions his wife “walking at night along the streams/ of the country of my birth,” merged with the forces of nature, “holding in your body the dark seed of my/ sleep.” This discreetly eroticized dream of love and procreation sets their conjugal love within the context of the wider reproductive powers of nature.

Stanza 2 contrasts the security of their union with the prior loneliness and isolation of the speaker, who...

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The Country of Marriage Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Country of Marriage” is the title poem of Berry’s fourth poetry volume, which was dedicated to his wife Tanya. Each of the seven stanzas is organized around a series of metaphoric assertions of the poet’s love for his wife. Berry, like Denise Levertov, is committed to the use of organic form, in which the content of a poem shapes its form. Berry’s use of the confessional form also allows him to celebrate their conjugal love in a personal but discreet manner.

Each stanza opens with a poetic assertion or question which is then expanded through the use of a dominant metaphor, linking their love with nature. The delicacy and intimacy of the lines create a sense of rhetorical privacy, as in a love letter or courtship poem. The basic movement of each stanza is from separation and isolation to union, from dream and desire to surrender and union. The organic metaphors express a series of oppositions that convey the richness of their love: limited/limitless, known/unknown, possessed/unpossessed, worthy/unworthy, light/darkness, life/ death.

Another dominant trope for their love is expressed through the words trust, approach, surrender, descent, union, rest, and peace, which echo the Elizabethan conceit of “dying” into each other’s love, often found in courtly love poetry. The energy of the poem seems to alternate between separation and union, losing and finding each other, suggesting the task of finding and defining oneself through love. There is a sense of indirect erotic tension and energy diffused throughout the poem, conveyed through the organic metaphors, which parallels the fecundity of nature.

The speaker celebrates the joy, happiness, and fulfillment of their marriage, always from the speaker’s own point of view. His wife is addressed but never replies. The poem also conveys a tacit religious sensibility, reminiscent of St. Paul’s celebration of love in I Corinthians 13, in that the qualities of conjugal love—its paradoxical, mysterious, generous, unpredictable, unbounded, and transcendent nature—suggest a parallel with divine love. A husband’s and wife’s love for each other mirrors God’s love for humanity. These religious overtones are implied through Berry’s consistent use of light and dark imagery throughout the poem.

The Country of Marriage Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Cornell, Robert. “The Country of Marriage: Wendell Berry’s Personal Political Vision.” Southern Literary Review 16 (Fall, 1983): 59-70.

Ditsky, John. “Wendell Berry: Homage to the Apple Tree.” Modern Poetry Studies 2, no. 1 (1971): 7-15.

Freyfogle, Eric. “The Dilemma of Wendell Berry.” University of Illinois Law Review 1994 (2): 363-385.

Hass, Robert. “Wendell Berry: Finding the Land.” Modern Poetry Studies 2, no. 1 (1971): 16-38.

Hicks, Jack. “Wendell Berry’s Husband to the World: A Place on Earth.” American Literature 51 (May, 1979): 238-254.

Merchant, Paul, ed. Wendell Berry. Lewiston, Idaho: Confluence Press, 1991.

Morgan, Speer. “Wendell Berry: A Fatal Singing.” Southern Review 10 (October, 1974): 865-877.

Nibbelink, Herman. “Thoreau and Wendell Berry: Bachelor and Husband of Nature.” The South Atlantic Quarterly 84 (Spring, 1985): 127-140.

Pevear, Richard. “On the Prose of Wendell Berry.” Hudson Review 35 (Summer, 1982): 341-347.

Smith, Kimberly K. Wendell Berry and the Agrarian Tradition: A Common Grace. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2003.

Smith, Kimberly K. “Wendell Berry’s Feminist Agrarianism.” Women’s Studies 30 (2001): 623-646.