Remembering that It Happened Once
It has become a tradition for us to publish a poem for the Christmas blog. So much Christmas poetry has either romanticized the day or, especially in modern poetry, found despair and resignation. What I like about this poem of Wendell Berry’s is his expectancy in the ordinary.
It’s unfortunate that the word “mundane” has come to mean dull and lacking interest or describing something unremarkable because so much of Wendell Berry’s writing is about the mundane. It is about this world. The daily rounds of chores and long relationships. The routines and tasks that are uneventful – at least on the surface. But that is both the setting of this poem and the surprise.
G.K. Chesterton said, “The simplification of anything is always sensational,” and that’s how I read Wendell Berry.
Remembering that it happened once,
We cannot turn away the thought,
As we go out, cold, to our barns
Toward the long night’s end, that we
Ourselves are living in the world
It happened in when it first happened,
That we ourselves, opening a stall
(A latch thrown open countless times
Before), might find them breathing there,
Foreknown: the Child bedded in straw,
The mother kneeling over Him,
The husband standing in belief
He scarcely can believe, in light
That lights them from no source we see,
An April morning’s light, the air
Around them joyful as a choir.
We stand with one hand on the door,
Looking into another world
That is this world, the pale daylight
Coming just as before, our chores
To do, the cattle all awake,
Our own frozen breath hanging
In front of us; and we are here
As we have never been before,
Sighted as not before, our place
Holy, although we knew it not.