How Much Poison Are You Willing To Eat?

Wendell Berry asks "How much poison are you willing to eat?"

My friend John Stewart recently introduced me to the American poet Wendell Berry. I had never heard of him before. A collection of his poetry is available in my local bookstore. Berry lives and farms and writes in the small community of Port Royal, Kentucky, a place people pass by on the way from Louisville, Kentucky to Cincinnati, Ohio. Wallace Berry received a National Humanities Medal from President Obama in 2010. Apparently my lack of awareness of Wendell Berry means I wasn’t paying attention.

How much poison are you willing to eat?

This poem has appeared in a number of locations.


1.      How much poison are you willing
to eat for the success of the free
market and global trade? Please
name your preferred poisons.

2.     For the sake of goodness, how much
evil are you willing to do?
Fill in the following blanks
with the names of your favorite
evils and acts of hatred.

3.     What sacrifices are you prepared
to make for culture and civilization?
Please list the monuments, shrines,
and works of art you would
most willingly destroy.

4.     In the name of patriotism and
the flag, how much of our beloved
land are you willing to desecrate?
List in the following spaces
the mountains, rivers, towns, farms
you could most readily do without.

5.     State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes,
the energy sources, the kinds of security,
for which you would kill a child.
Name, please, the children whom
you would be willing to kill.

While I am a supporter of free markets, the more pertinent question is “How much poison are you willing to eat to sustain yourself in the manner to which you have become accustomed? How lucky do you feel? Would you bet your life on it? Oh wait…


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