The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer

I am done with apologies. If contrariness is my
inheritance and destiny, so be it. If it is my mission
to go in at exits and come out at entrances, so be it.
I have planted by the stars in defiance of the experts,
and tilled somewhat by incantation and by singing,
and reaped, as I knew, by luck and Heaven’s favor,
in spite of the best advice. If I have been caught
so often laughing at funerals, that was because
I knew the dead were already slipping away,
preparing a comeback, and can I help it?
And if at weddings I have gritted and gnashed
my teeth, it was because I knew where the bridegroom
had sunk his manhood, and knew it would not
be resurrected by a piece of cake. ‘Dance,’ they told me,
and I stood still, and while they stood
quiet in line at the gate of the Kingdom, I danced.
‘Pray,’ they said, and I laughed, covering myself
in the earth’s brightnesses, and then stole off gray
into the midst of a revel, and prayed like an orphan.
When they said, ‘I know my Redeemer liveth,’
I told them, ‘He’s dead.’ And when they told me
‘God is dead,’ I answered, ‘He goes fishing every day
in the Kentucky River. I see Him often.’
When they asked me would I like to contribute
I said no, and when they had collected
more than they needed, I gave them as much as I had.
When they asked me to join them I wouldn’t,
and then went off by myself and did more
than they would have asked. ‘Well, then,’ they said
‘go and organize the International Brotherhood
of Contraries,’ and I said, ‘Did you finish killing
everybody who was against peace?’ So be it.
Going against men, I have heard at times a deep harmony
thrumming in the mixture, and when they ask me what
I say I don’t know. It is not the only or the easiest
way to come to the truth. It is one way.

Wendell Berry

You can hear him read it here:

11 comments on “The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer

  1. There can be no doubt that a world full of contrary mad farmers would expedite the ushering in of the new story that Charles Eisenstein speaks of. May it be so. May I be every day more of a contrary mad farmer.


  2. shoreacres says:

    When I think of true contrarians, I think of Thoreau, Whitman, Merton – that sort. Berry, too. Artists of every ilk. And the quiet ones, who make their decisions and move on. Those decision-making moments, when we do what we know we must, perhaps despite our own agreement with those who say we’re wrong, are what we generally term life-changing moments. I’m sitting here counting my own. There have been a few.

    Just thinking aloud here, but it seems to me that a remarkably solid sense of self is an absolute prerequisite for the kind of life described in Berry’s poem. I’ve known a good many people who imagine themselves to be contrarians, visionaries, prophets — but they’ve had no sense of self. They’re only running with a different herd.

    It can be a fine line. Reflexive contrariness can morph into simple obnoxiousness. But following one’s own wisdom about life, whatever the world may think? Those folks have a poet to describe their experience, and his name is Wendell Berry.


    • DM says:

      I really like what you’re saying here Linda about having a strong sense of self vs. being contrary just for the sake of contrary, just following a different herd. I would like to think I’m the former, but know on occasion, the passive aggressive part of me does “kick in” when I feel someone pushing me)…not sure if that all makes sense or not, but it does to me.


    • Bill says:

      Well said. I think you’ve really nailed it.


  3. DM says:

    First time I’ve ever heard this poem. I like it. It stirs something in me, even though I don’t get all of it 🙂 DM


  4. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, I’m not one to really understand or enjoy philosophical poetry. I’m not sure if I belong in the contrarian group or not. Most times I just follow what the heart says and pay no mind to what the experts by self proclamation say. When I started my Terra Nova Gardens experiment the neighbor said “You know if you put too much mulch on your garden it will heat up and catch on fire” but it didn’t. The next year when the same neighbor said, “You know if you keep putting that mulch on your garden it will kill the soil and you won’t be able to grow anything” but it didn’t. In fact the tomato harvest was the best ever. This year? Well, we will see what great wisdom he will bless me with this year. So if that puts me in the same thought process as Wendell Berry then so be it.

    Have a great contrariness of a Mad Farmer day.


  5. I’m having a hard time trying to decide if I enjoyed the poem or the comments more! Mad farmers are a fun bunch.


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