I watched a documentary on Sundance Channel last week called The Unforeseen. The documentary was bleak and mostly boring, but I was completely stirred by the opening scenes of West Texas fields, farmers spliced between unfinished skyscrapers and grid-line streets. You can see an overview here. These interspersed images were backdrop to a poem that captured me. Research showed it to be “Santa Clara Valley” by Wendell Berry. Excerpted below, I hope you enjoy!
From SABBATHS by Wendell Berry
III. (Santa Clara Valley)
I walked the deserted prospect of the modern mind
where nothing lived or happened that had not been foreseen.
What had been foreseen was the coming of the Stranger with Money.
All that had been before had been destroyed: the salt marsh
of unremembered time, the remembered homestead, orchard and pasture.
A new earth had appeared in place of the old, made entirely
according to plan. New palm trees stood all in a row, new pines
all in a row, confined in cement to keep them from straying.
New buildings, built to seal and preserve the inside
against the outside, stood in the blatant outline of their purpose
in the renounced light and air. Inside them
were sealed cool people, the foreseen ones, who did not look
or go in any way that they did not intend,
waited upon by other people, trained in servility, who begged
of the ones who had been foreseen: ‘Is everything
all right, sir? Have you enjoyed your dinner, sir?
Have a nice evening, sir.’ Here was no remembering
of hands coming newly to the immortal work
of hands, joining stone to stone, door to doorpost, man to woman.
Outside, what had been foreseen was roaring in the air.
Roads and buildings roared in their places
on the scraped and chartered earth; the sky roared
with the passage of those who had been foreseen
toward destinations they foresaw, unhindered by any place between.
The highest good of that place was the control of temperature
and light. The next highest was to touch or know or say
no fundamental or necessary thing. The next highest
was to see no thing that had not been foreseen,
to spare no comely thing that had grown comely on its own.
Some small human understanding seemed to have arrayed itself
there without limit, and to have cast its grid upon the sky,
the stars, the rising and the setting sun.
I could not see past it but to its ruin.
I walked alone in that desert of unremitting purpose,
feeling the despair of one who could no longer remember
another valley where bodies and events took place and form
not always foreseen by human, and the humans themselves followed
ways not altogether in the light, where all the land had not yet
been consumed by intention, or the people by their understanding,
where still there was forgiveness in time, so that whatever
had been destroyed might yet return. Around me
as I walked were dogs barking in resentment
against the coming of the unforeseen.
And yet even there I was not beyond reminding,
for I came upon a ditch where the old sea march,
native to that place, had been confined below the sight
of the only-foreseeing eye. What had been the overworld
had become the underworld: the land risen from the sea
by no human intention, the drawing in and out of the water,
the pulse of the great sea itself confined in a narrow ditch.
Where the Sabbath of that place kept itself in waiting,
the herons of the night stood in their morning watch,
and the herons of the day in silence stood
by the living water in its strait. The coots and gallinules
skulked in the reeds, the mother mallards and their little ones
afloat on the seaward-sliding water to no purpose I had foreseen.
The stilts were feeding in the shallows, and the killdeer
treading with light feet the mud that was all ashine
with the coming day. Volleys of swallows leapt
in joyous flight out of the dark into the brightening air
in eternal gratitude for life before time not foreseen,
and the song of the song sparrow rang in its bush.