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A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems, 1979-1997

4.41  ·  Rating details ·  1,237 ratings  ·  106 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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Average rating 4.41  · 
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 ·  1,237 ratings  ·  106 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: poetry, 2018
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.
This book has been in my bathroom for years - 5? 10? I don't know, it has been a while. I would read an occasional poem here and there, but have been making a more concerted effort to do so in 2020. No star rating because 1) it has been too long and 2) poetry is not my strong reading suit so it wouldn't be fair. I'm trying to learn, though.

I enjoyed reading many of these. The trees, the birds, the place Berry writes about even the people are real and are pictured for us in wholeness. I'm no agra
Sarah Wolfe
Mar 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Phenomenally beautiful and poignant, restless and restful, longing and resolution.
Jen H
Dec 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Have you ever read a book that awakened in you a love for the continuity of the seasons and their relationship to one another, inspired a careful appreciation for the passage of time, and quietly acknowledged the interrelationship between light and death? This book of poems from the well-known gentleman farmer, Wendell Berry, did all of this and more for me, and I highly recommend it to you.

The formatting of the book, by years written, contributed to the overall effectiveness of this book for me
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. ...more
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
Emily Magnus
Dec 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
We have officially broken the curse of the 3-star ratings in the past books. DARE I even say this deserved 5 lil golden sparkles. My phone camera roll is now dispersed with seemingly every other page of these poems. Our guy Berry has a way of putting encapsulating nature, relationships and work that truly felt like a breathe of fresh air. The preface of this book set the tone saying "these poems were written in silence, in solitude, mainly out of doors. A reader will like them best, I think, who ...more
Mary Lee
Jul 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult, poetry
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
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
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
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.
Wendell Berry makes me proud to be from KY.
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 ...
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.
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.
Aug 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
salt of the earth, spirit of the sky
Janelle Nafziger
Jun 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Ugh! This book will stand firmly in the lineup of my favorite books of all time. I imagine this will be one I come back to again, and maybe again and again.

I happened upon this book while perusing a poetry section in a small-town coffee shop library. I brought it to my table, opened it up, and began reading while I waited for my guest to arrive. I had only minutes with it; but in those minutes, a smile became plastered on my face and my heart did leaps. You know the feeling when you meet a book
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
Austin Spence
Nov 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
The process that went into crafting this collection is something I am extremely grateful for. Poetry, or any sort of creation/ art, that come from time spent practicing a Sabbath is certainly something we can all appreciate. I never really got lost in the long winded poems about going on walks in the forest, which is to give Berry credit for making something mundane feel engaging and worthwhile. The works ebb and flow in and out of appreciation for the outer world and the "belovedness" found and ...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
Apr 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was the first work of Wendell Berry I've read and it was surprisingly helpful and therapeutic for this memorable spring of 2020. It's a time full of uncertainty and fear around the world, and Berry's calm, introspective earthiness has helped me slow down, breathe, and notice the beauty in front of me. I look forward to reading more of his work and imagine I'll be returning to his poems often. This is one of my favorites from this volume:

"Whatever is foreseen in joy
Must be lived out from da
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
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
Steve Nation
Aug 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Having read Jaber Crow and a few of Wendell Berry's shorter stories and articles, I was keen to read more of his work. I found this one in a small second hand bookstore in Vancouver at the beginning of this year.

I was unsure about it, because I haven't often connected to poetry. But this book has been deeply meaningful for me. Reading it in Canada, especially walking and sitting in the forests and hills, was a real blessing. The poetry brought back a lot of the things I learnt studying environm
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. ...more
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.
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. ...more
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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." ...more

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“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.”
“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 bludgeoned, 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 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.”
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