Sabbaths Essay - Critical Essays

Sabbaths

Written over seven years of Sabbaths between 1979 and 1985, the poems in SABBATHS reach a destination Berry began to approach in his two earlier collections, A PART and THE WHEEL. Those familiar with Berry’s poetry will recognize the simplicity and clarity of language, directness of speech, and depth of sentiment which characterized his previous collections; in these forty-six meditative lyrics, readers also will discover Berry’s arrival at a new and higher level of quietude and formal grace.

In Berry’s work, as in much wisdom literature, the natural world--a world Berry knows well--is a metaphor for the spiritual world. These psalm-like lyrics are in the tradition of the great sacred verse writers: John Donne, George Herbert, Edward Taylor, Anne Bradstreet, Gerard Manley Hopkins. Yet there is no doctrine here, no hint of forced dogma controlling his vision. Within his verse resides a deep and abiding reverence for the forces and patterns at work in the natural world, and in that world Berry finds guidance as to how we are to shape and live our lives: “I go among trees and sit still./ All my stirring becomes quiet/ around me like circles on water./ My tasks lie in their places/ where I left them, asleep like cattle.”

Throughout this book, Berry addresses fundamental questions. What does it mean to be human? How are we to live in the world? Berry’s answers are implicit in his vision of authentic life and right relationships: “Mistaking for a song our lonely cry,/ We turn in wrongs of love against our kind/ ... The fall returns. Our deeds and days gone by/ Take root, bear fruit, are carried on in faith/ Or fault, through deaths all mortal things must die.” Readers should discover in Berry’s poetry a continual source of spiritual nourishment--a nourishment so much needed in our materialistic culture.