Back Wendell Berry, “The Rise”

Wendell Berry (b. 1934)
From What I Stand On: The Collected Essays of Wendell Berry 1969–2017

Fur Traders Descending the Missouri, 1845, oil on canvas by American artist George Caleb Bingham (The Metropolitan Museum of Art). Wendell Berry discusses the painting in “The Rise”: “The painter’s eye, there, is very near the water, and so he sees the river as the trappers see it from their dugout—all the space coming down to that vast level. One feels the force, the aliveness, of the water under the boat, close under the feet of the men. And there they are, isolated in the midst of it, with their box of cargo and their pet fox—men and boat and box and animal all so strangely and poignantly coherent on the wild plain of the water, a sort of island.”

Wendell Berry—novelist, storywriter, essayist, poet, ecological philosopher, activist, and farmer—turns 85 today, August 5.

Berry’s essays combine the authority and wisdom of experience with the grace and clarity of a great American prose stylist. In an interview published this past month in The New Yorker, he explained how his father influenced his writing: “My mother was a reader, but my father was a lawyer, and so he was under constraint to be clear. He really took pains to understand what it meant to talk to a jury. He used to love the story—I don’t know if it originated with him or not—of some young lawyer asking a witness, ‘Who instigated the altercation?’ And an old lawyer punched him on the shoulder and said, ‘Ask him who started the fight!’ My father insisted on the use of the right words, on calling things by their right names, and his syntax was powerful.”

The best of Berry’s essays have been collected in a new two-volume Library of America edition, and the opening selection, “The Rise” describes a journey down the Kentucky River when it had flooded much of his farm. We present the essay as our latest Story of the Week.

Read “The Rise” by Wendell Berry

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