In most ""nature poetry,"" the poet often seems to lose his own innate dignity--which is usually replaced by either a flinty stoicism or a swoony transsubstantiation with the allness of the world. Not in Berry's case, though. The least affected contemporary American nature poet, he exhibits a matter-of-factness before nature that is astonishingly upright, sometimes even cranky: ""In the labor of the fields/ longer than a man's life/ I am at home. Don't come with me./ You stay home too."" A poem like ""The Adze"" here is as startlingly plain-sighted as a Courbet painting', ""A Dance"" is as freshly poised as early William Carlos Williams. The smug line--""What I stand for/ is what I stand on""--is rare. This clean directness must have something to do with Berry's method, which seeks envelopment by the world less than it does division and reintegration: thinking of his farm falling wild again after his death, he realizes that ""Beauty will lie, fold/ on fold, upon it. Foreseeing/ it so, I cannot withhold/ love. But from the height/ and distance of foresight,/ how well I like it as it is!"" Similarly, a prayer--""I flinch and pray,/ send Thy necessity""--encapsules an utterly human mixed reaction to inhuman beauty and force. And poems like ""Grief,"" ""Creation Myth,"" and ""The Slip"" are all stately with the regret and wonder of being so little a part of the inexorable while at the same time being so magnetically drawn to it. True, a narrative historical poem--""July, 1773""--surrenders this immediacy and is disappointing. But it is the sole lapse in an otherwise important and excellent collection.
Pub Date: Sept. 20, 1980
Page Count: -
Publisher: North Point Press (850 Talbot Ave., Berkeley, Calif. 94706)