From Publishers Weekly
In his 18th book of poems, Berry (Given
) rails against environmental destruction starting with the second poem: While the land suffers, automobiles thrive. He mixes philosophy, religion, politics, and personal experience in poems utilizing formal rhymes, spare jottings, and intimate letters. Most of the book is a long series inspired by Berry's regular Sunday morning walks. While Berry's various modes can make for interesting poetry, some of the poems here, particularly those that rely on a broad political brush, fall flat: The nation in its error... //Destroys its land. When hinging a poem on a candle against the wind, Berry should know he's on infertile ground. What still zings, though, are moments when this old man of letters surprises himself, as when Berry addresses his wife: I love you as I loved you/ young, except that, old, I am astonished. (Nov.)
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Berry has become ever more prophetic. The poems he collectively calls sabbaths, composed on Sundays in the woods on his farmland since 1979, occupy four-fifths of this book. If originally meditational and quiet, however serious and deep the passions they mulled over, the sabbath poems are now oracular in the mode of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the other Hebrew prophets who enjoined their people to come to their senses and remember the Lord and his bounty, promises, and judgment. In the sabbaths of 2005–08 published here, Berry angrily mourns the degradation of the nation wrought by destruction of the land and the pursuit of wealth and power. He says that we must prepare to live without hope for a while, though in the very first of the sabbaths, he prays not to lose love along with hope: “Help me, please, to carry / this candle against the wind.” Despite anger and bitterness, he often recalls and teaches the beauty and propriety of creation, too. If he is a Jeremiah, he is also a David the psalmist. --Ray Olson