As I was thinking about the positive intention thing, I suddenly remembered a poem that gives me a lot of inspiration. It”s not the happy feel-good poem of the year, but it is about insurrection and resurrection and remembering what is important and prioritizing that. It is, in every respect but without reference, about positive intention and better living through getting your head screwed on straight. I actually published it on my blog in July 2017 and I am bringing it back tonight because I can and because I needed to. So there.
This poem, called Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front, was part of a compilation of readings I got introduced to through my Aspen Institute Health Innovation Fellowship. I’m generally not much of a poetry reader, but this poem spoke to me. As I wrote in 2017, this poem, itself written in 1973, works the right way on my brain because of the recommendations to “love someone who doesn’t deserve it,” and to “be joyful though you have considered all the facts.” And my rebellious side particularly liked the idea of “doing something every day that doesn’t compute” Naturally, I liked the admonition to “please women more than men.” All of it seems like great advice to me and a great reminder to buck the trends, ignore the Joneses, focus on happiness and to use some positive intention to cause a little healthy trouble on your journey to wherever. Plus, I coincidentally found out that my friend Molly actually knew the poet, Wendell Berry. So clearly he is someone who valued great company.
I hope you will share with me in the comments section what you are doing that doesn’t compute how you are putting love into the world that doesn’t always deserve it.
by Wendell Berry
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
*“Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” from The Country of Marriage, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. 1973. Also published by Counterpoint Press in The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry, 1999; The Mad Farmer Poems, 2008; New Collected Poems, 2012.