(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Containing nearly two hundred poems from eight previous volumes, Collected Poems, 1957-1982 has helped to establish Wendell Berry as a major American poet. The collection illustrates the ideas Berry develops in his fiction and substantiates in his autobiographical and polemical essays. Unifying his poetry are the principles and rewards of small-scale, hands-on, community-based, multigenerational farming, which Berry has found to be an exemplar of a continuous harmony between people and land. Collected Poems stands as one of the most substantial poetic explorations of the links between family, community, farming, and nature.

Central to Berry’s poetry is the view of nature as the primal and ruling character of place—the genius of the place, to use the phrase he borrows from British poet Alexander Pope. Always particular and not abstract, nature in Collected Poems is often Berry’s ancestral hill farm in Port Royal, Kentucky. This nature—and the ancestors who once lived in and enriched the place—is portrayed as a teacher, a conveyor of knowledge, and a clarifier of truths about oneself and the world.

Many of the poems illustrate the mysteries and lessons Berry has learned as a fifth-generation farmer. At the heart of nature’s teachings, and thus at the heart of Berry’s poetry, is the natural cyclic process of birth, growth, maturity, death, and rebirth. This wheel of life is a controlling metaphor...

(The entire section is 430 words.)