I’ve been slowly pondering Wendell Berry’s wonderful A timbered choir poems. Most of the poems focus on Berry’s reflections on family and his natural surrounds. This poem is a superbly powerful criticism of vacuous materialism. It reminds me a little of T.S. Eliot’s Wasteland.
Even while I dreamed I prayed that what I saw was only fear and no foretelling,
for I saw the last known landscape destroyed for the sake
of the objective, the soil bulldozed, the rock blasted.
Those who had wanted to go home would never get there now.
I visited the offices where for the sake of the objective the planners planned
at blank desks set in rows. I visited the loud factories
where the machines were made that would drive ever forward
toward the objective. I saw the forest reduced to stumps and gullies; I saw
the poisoned river, the mountain cast into the valley;
I came to the city that nobody recognized because it looked like every other city.
I saw the passages worn by the unnumbered
footfalls of those whose eyes were fixed upon the objective.
Their passing had obliterated the graves and the monuments
of those who had died in pursuit of the objective
and who had long ago forever been forgotten, according
to the inevitable rule that those who have forgotten forget
that they have forgotten. Men, women, and children now pursued the objective
as if nobody ever had pursued it before.
The races and the sexes now intermingled perfectly in pursuit of the objective.
The once-enslaved, the once-oppressed were now free
to sell themselves to the highest bidder
and to enter the best-paying prisons in pursuit of the objective, which was the destruction of all enemies,
which was the destruction of all obstacles, which was the destruction of all objects,
which was to clear the way to victory, which was to clear the way to promotion, to salvation, to progress,
to the completed sale, to the signature
on the contract, which was to clear the way
to self-realization, to self-creation, from which nobody who ever wanted to go home
would ever get there now, for every remembered place
had been displaced; the signposts had been bent to the ground and covered over.
Every place had been displaced, every love unloved,
every vow unsworn, every word unmeant
to make way for the passage of the crowd
of the individuated, the autonomous, the self-actuated, the homeless
with their many eyes opened only toward the objective
which they did not yet perceive in the far distance,
having never known where they were going,
having never known where they came from.
—Wendell Berry. 1997.II in A timbered choir: the Sabbath poems 1979-1997. New York, Counterpoint, 1992, pp. 208-209.