Wendell Berry has lived as a farmer and writer in Kentucky for a quarter century. In his fiction, essays and poetry, he often meditates on the human relation to the earth. His poem “The Slip” is precipitated by a disaster. A river bank has given way, leaving an acre of farmland swallowed by water. The poet gazes at the devastation and bemoans the utter loss of valued land and the dissolution of the farmer’s plans for it. The poem is describing a calamity, yet a profound calm pervades it.
I’m intrigued by how Berry has pulled this off. His blank-verse voice certainly helps. Iambic pentameter is English poetry’s most grounded rhythm. And all the lines run over into each other like the river overflowing the land—except for four lines that are complete sentences. These are the poem’s anchors, the lines that hold the poem still at key points.