‘They gather like an ancestry…’

The sixth in a series of poems by the great Wendell Berry, from his collection ‘This Day: Collected and New Sabbath Poems’.

They gather like an ancestry
in the centuries behind us:
the killed by violence, the dead
in war, the “acceptable losses” –
killed by custom in self-defense,
by way of correction, in revenge,
for love of God, for the glory
of the world, for peace; killed
for pride, lust, envy, anger,
covetousness, gluttony, sloth,
and fun. The strewn carcasses
cease to feed even the flies,
the stench passes from them,
the earth folds in the bones
like salt in a batter.

And we have learned
nothing. “Love your enemies,
bless them that curse you,
do good to them that hate you” –
it goes on regardless, reasonably:
the always uncompleted
symmetry of just reprisal,
the angry word, the boast
of superior righteousness,
hate in Christ’s name,
scorn for the dead, lies
for the honour of the nation,
centuries bloodied and dismembered
for ideas, for ideals,
for the love of God!

– Wendell Berry, This Day: Collected and New Sabbath Poems: 2005 (II)

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