The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Where” is a long pastoral meditation on the history and uses of the fifty-acre farm (Lane’s Landing) in Henry County, Kentucky, which Wendell and Tanya Berry purchased in parcels between 1965 and 1968. The poem exists in two forms: a longer, didactic form originally published in Not Man Apart (1975) and Clearings (1977), and a shorter, revised, more lyrical version that appeared later in Collected Poems: 1957-1982 (1985). The two versions are so different that they could almost be considered as separate poems.

The original, longer version of “Where” shifts between an impersonal, historical, third-person point of view and a more distinct first-person poetic voice (it is the dominant voice of Clearings, the Wendell Berry persona of the farmer-poet). The revised, shorter version of the poem retains more of the impersonal third-person perspective and lacks a clear persona except for an occasional personal pronoun, so that the speaker’s presence is merely implicit in the poem.

The original version of “Where” addresses the general questions: “Who owned this land before me?” and “What was its history?” Berry traces the previous ownership of the fifty-acre farm back almost two hundred years to the original land survey by two Scots-Irish settlers, Thomas and Walker Daniels, when it was part of a thousand-acre tract on the Kentucky River. Then he recounts how the land was successively...

(The entire section is 409 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The original, longer version of “Where,” which seems more coherent, is divided into three parts: Part 1 contains 115 lines, part 2 has 202 lines, and part 3 has 60 lines. Each part of the poem is divided into stanzas that are a sentence or two in length. Part 1 contains eight stanzas, part 2 has six stanzas, and part 3 has three stanzas. The meter is free verse with approximately three stresses per line, which resembles a blank verse trimeter but is looser in form.

The revised version of “Where” eliminates parts 1 and 3 entirely and retains only the first 140 lines of part 2. It contains five stanzas. All specific references to the names of previous owners are dropped, creating a more generalized lyric meditation on the fate of the land. What is lost is the sense of a specific place and historical record. The theme of the poem—the consequences of poor husbandry—becomes more generalized, and the sharpness of the specific references is lost.

The style of “Where” is deliberately terse and understated: images of silence, decay, and ecological degradation predominate. Images of lost primordial richness—clear creeks, tall hardwoods, and black topsoil—contrast with the washed-out gullies, eroded furrows, and scrub growth of the present. The land has been despoiled, and the original settlers are gone, leaving little tangible evidence of their presence beyond their gravestones, silent “as fossils in creek ledges.”

In the revised version of “Where,” the poem’s apparent persona—“the watcher”—is...

(The entire section is 639 words.)


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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.