Gratitude and Affection

Alerted by the review in Commonweal and intrigued by the title, I purchased Wendell Berry's volume of essays: Imagination in Place.I had only read occasional essays by Berry and did not really know his work. But this volume strongly struck me by its deep sense of the "sacramentality" of the particular, both places and persons. In this I was happily reminded of Gerard Manley Hopkins stress upon "haecceitas:" the "thisness" of things.One of the essays, "The Uses of Adversity," is a splendid reading of two plays of Shakespeare, As You Like It and, especially, King Lear. It drove me to re-read Lear, as a "relief" from grading quizzes. Talk about the uses of adversity!But the essays are also a rich tribute to friends and fellow poets, like Hayden Carruth, James Baker Hall, and Wallace Stegner. In his essay on Stegner, he quotes from one of his favorite Stegner essays, : "Letter, Much Too Late." Berry writes:

It is a letter to his mother, dead fifty-five years, in which he tells her how much he owes her and how much he loves her. It is a settling of an account, an act of justice. But for anyone who knew Wallace Stegner, it is more than that. He was, as he knew and said himself, a reticent man; it was hard for him to say straight out, what he felt. But in this essay -- without, I think, the least diminution of dignity -- the reticence is suddenly swept away, and reading the essay is like overhearing a conversation between two souls. For death too is swept away. "Death," he says, "is a convention, a certification to the end of pain ... not binding upon anyone but the keepers of graveyard records." Death is brushed aside like a hanging cobweb, and the voice of the essay continues out of time, speaking of memories and regrets, calling up visions, telling his mother, with the utmost candor of gratitude and affection, all that he has come to understand, until finally he can say to her as she was, and is: "Any minute now I will hear you singing."

The utmost candor of gratitude and affection.

Robert P. Imbelli, a long-time Commonweal contributor, is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York. A book of essays in his honor, The Center Is Jesus Christ Himself, edited by Andrew Meszaros, was published this year by The Catholic University of America Press.

Also by this author
Shakespeare and Verdi

Please email comments to [email protected] and join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Must Reads