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A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems, 1979-1997

4.40  ·  Rating details ·  1,148 ratings  ·  94 reviews
Berry’s Sabbath poems embrace much that is elemental to human life--beauty, death, peace, and hope.In his preface to the collection, Berry writes about the growing audience for public poetry readings. While he sees poetry in the public eye as a good thing, Berry asks us to recognize the private life of the poem. These Sabbath poems were written "in silence, in solitude, an ...more
Paperback, 216 pages
Published 1998 by Counterpoint
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4.40  · 
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 ·  1,148 ratings  ·  94 reviews

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Jun 24, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
I don't always "get" poetry, but many of these spoke to me. Here is one that I read over and over again:

Whatever is foreseen in joy
Must be lived out from day to day.
Vision held open in the dark
By our ten thousand days of work.
Harvest will fill the barn; for that
The hand must ache, the face must sweat.

And yet no leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled
And left to grace. That we may reap,
Great work is done while we're asleep.

When we work well, a Sabbath mood
Rests on our day, an
Dec 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018, poetry
This is the last volume of poetry I discussed with my father before he died. I wish I could call him on the phone to discuss it now. When I went home for the funeral, I claimed his copy from one of his many bookshelves. It will sit next to mine now. There are few better legacies a father could leave to his child than the love of books and poetry in particular.
Feb 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Berry's poems are fraught with the imagery of a planet and a livelihood under siege by modern society. However, they are also filled with moments of light and love for others and for the divine. Some of these poems leap from the page into your heart and mind, others require a deeper introspection but are worthy of it. If you can't find something to like, try reading it again.
Jan 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I read somewhere that Wendell Berry thinks of himself as an “amateur poet.” I haven’t heard anything so ridiculously funny in a while. And I am afraid his politics and decision to be a full time farmer instead of a university professor might have suppressed the best poetry that was ever written. Where are the accolades? This poetry is so beautiful, accessible, important, spiritual, realistic, holy, religious, non religious, lyrical, everything. The poems are technically and lyrically brilliant, ...more
Mary Lee
Jul 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, adult
I liked more of the poems in the second half than the first.
Micky Tang
May 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own
Like most of my books, this meditative text was read over a period of time. I really enjoyed reading it that way, savoring the reflections and enjoying how the poet used everyday language to view the sacred. Here's what I wrote when I was closer to being finished:
We take the everyday for granted, as though we have "figured out" the mystery of the familiar: what has become commonplace to us loses its significance. Berry's poetry makes a closer inspection of nature and infuses wonder back into our
May 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing

Leslie Norris said he wished he could write a Sabbath poem akin to Berry. Hear, hear! Heart and soul and earth and sky words to be savored under blankets of stars, smell of pine, babbling of brook and feel of red rock warmth. Oh so pretty and oh so keen personal journey of all the soul faces in surrendering to simplicity as well as cultural commentary on how the west was "won". Decades of inspiration and change one Sunday at a time. Both uplifting and slightly angry making at unwise land use pla
Apr 04, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Those who seek to tread the earth lightly
Shelves: poetry
I first discovered Wendell Berry when as an undergraduate at Southeastern University I recieved his poem "How to Be A Poet (to remind myself)" in my school mailbox as a gift from my advisor's wife, as I had recently presented Billy Collins to her freshmen composistion class. The poem has been on my bathroom mirror ever since, reminding me every morning of the virtues of silence, meditation, tranquility, and being present to ones surroundings. His poems seem to reflect his quest to practice these ...more
Stephen Hicks
Mar 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is the first of Berry's poetry that I have picked up. I was very pleased with what I found. I don't feel that I can rant and rave about this book not because what I found was of poor quality, but because Berry installs a sense of peace and tearfulness that epitomizes the meaning of the Sabbath. His poems are never fast-moving or action-packed; they are appreciative, observant, transcendent, and loving. I was very pleased with this collection. Mostly set around his life in nature and farm wo ...more
Alena Guggemos
Jan 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
What can I say about Wendell Berry? His writing, along with that of Thoreau, is about as close as I come to reading the bible. This books sits on my night stand and I often turn to it in the evening to quiet my mind or in the morning to provide perspective. Every poem is a prayer.
Gary Grimes
Dec 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
A very good read that allowed me to relax as I read it. I am t usually a fan of poetry but very much enjoyed reading this book. Let me look at divine in a different way.
Wendell Berry makes me proud to be from KY.
Jul 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful! I could always be reading this book, circling back to the beginning as soon as I finished the last page, and continue to find surprises in the words and images and rhythms.
Ben DeVries
Nov 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
This collection of poetry really grew on me as I read through it. Many poignant reflections in it, which call my heart back to a simpler and more noble way of life ...
Aug 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
salt of the earth, spirit of the sky
Brian Kehler
Mar 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
The love for nature shines here, but some religious assumptions and dismissals of the good in modern society reveals a hopeless desire for a “harmonious” past with nature that simply has not existed. Exploitation of nature is an old, old story, and whether we like it or not, part of our repairing of that relationship absolutely depends on mass collective and technological innovation, on political will as much as personal virtue. What Berry preaches here is another form of isolationism: the nucle ...more
Aug 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
I agree with others here who have commented that Berry's poems in this collection feel like deep breathing. Most provoked for me a deep cleansing breath after reading. Berry inspires in me greater appreciation for the places and work that are mine, even if they aren't farms and farm work or woods and woodwork. In total, I like these poems best when they celebrate or savor a moment or a season; I like them least when they complain and condemn. Yes, there is much to condemn, and Berry clearly feel ...more
Eugene LeCouteur
Jul 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
a marvelous collection of poems written by Berry on the Sabbath. I read them again and again. Before this book I knew Berry's novels but not his poems. My cousin, Nancy Chinn, a professor of English at Baylor turned me on to his poetry and I was hooked.

I read one of these poems at Nancy's memorial service (1982 VII). She died way too young. But she gave me a gift in Berry's poems and the other literature we discussed and shared. No telling how many undergrads she also enlightened.

"We join our
May 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this volume more as he advanced through the years, as I do enjoy his nature-filled poetry. This collection includes that, but also a few outcries regarding birth, death, man’s nature, modern problems. There are a number of poems of tribute to friends and family. I particularly enjoyed a poem in which he meditates on an abandoned field which has begun to fill again with a resurgence of growth – tall weeds and even new trees … the cycle of life evident. Also a favorite is IV from 1982 ab ...more
Dec 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
" I would not have been a poet
except that I have been in love
alive in this mortal world..." (1994, #VII)
In this collection of beautiful poetry, Wendell Berry reminds us of what is right and good in this world. While reading many of these poems, I was reminded of childhood days spent on my grandmother's small farm in the Catskills and the beauty that surrounded me and the peace I felt walking through fields and woods. These poems have been my companion through the Advent and Christmas seasons
Suz McDowell
May 07, 2019 rated it liked it
I hate giving this book a 3 because I have liked his other work so much. I was disappointed in this book because I was not expecting it to be so much about death. So maybe it’s my expectations that are at fault. I did find a very few gems in here, but the vast majority of the poems are either about people dying or trees being cut down, and that was incredibly depressing. Maybe I’m better off sticking to Mary Oliver.
Jul 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful poems about the land, about what it means to be human, and about the hope of resurrection (each spring, and ultimately). I am grateful for Berry's quiet and unassuming wisdom. These poems aren't showy, but they do show us another way of being in the world, a way that is attentive to that which is around us. Such attention is itself a sign of love, without which we can do no good in the world.
Nora Peevy
Jan 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
So much has been written already about Wendell Berry that it is hard to think of anything new. I will just add this: This book of poetry is a heart song about living, dying, and faith. Don't read it all in one sitting, or if you do, come back to it again. There is so much to take in and savor.
Jan 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
I found I enjoyed the more recent poems to a greater degree. The earlier ones relied more heavily on rhyme scheme and meter than I tend to prefer. Still, the drawing back to the natural world, the choice to pause, it nourishes as do these verses and the world they capture.
Joshua Carney
Jun 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
this is my first try at poetry. i'm sure wendell berry is as good as any. the deficiency in this experience was certainly with me the reader. some images landed. some didn't. some poems moved me. some did not. it feels silly to write a review of a book of poems.

Ray Hollenbach
Nov 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Heartbreakingly beautiful.
Justin Wiggins
Oct 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An incredible volume of poetry by the brilliant farmer and poet Wendell Berry.
Abby Tamkin
Jan 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019, poetry, own
Read a poem each night before going to sleep.
Many that I liked, many that we just fine, many that made me think.
Should have marked more favorites, but there's so many!
Will read/skim again.
Kenley Neufeld
May 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
Completely enjoyable. To be savored and received slowly. To be inspired and touch our hearts. Our creativity. And most importantly, to know the earth and the gifts she offers.
Preston Stell
Sep 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
A thing of beauty. Definitely not my favorite collection but one I will re-read again some day.
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Wendell Berry is a conservationist, farmer, essayist, novelist, professor of English and poet. He was born August 5, 1934 in Henry County, Kentucky where he now lives on a farm. The New York Times has called Berry the "prophet of rural America."
“Sabbaths, 1982—IV  
(“A gardener rises out of the ground”)

Thrush song, stream song, holy love
That flows through earthly forms and folds,
The song of Heaven’s Sabbath fleshed
In throat and ear, in stream and stone,
A grace living here as we live,
Move my mind now to that which holds
Things as they change.
The warmth has come.
The doors have opened. Flower and song
Embroider ground and air, lead me
Beside the healing field that waits;
Growth, death, and a restoring form
Of human use will make it well.
But I go on, beyond, higher
In the hill’s fold, forget the time
I come from and go to, recall
This grove left out of all account,
A place enclosed in song.
Now falls from thought. I go amazed
Into the maze of a design
That mind can follow but not know,
Apparent, plain, and yet unknown,
The outline lost in earth and sky.
What form wakens and rumples this?
Be still. A man who seems to be
A gardener rises out of the ground,
Stands like a tree, shakes off the dark,
The bluebells opening at his feet,
The light a figured cloth of song.”
More quotes…