The Language of Trees

Kansas cottonwoods in fall

 

Before you can learn the trees, you have to learn
The language of the trees.  That’s done indoors,
Out of a book, which now you think of it
Is one of the transformations of a tree.
The words themselves are a delight to learn.
You might be in a foreign land of terms
Like samara, capsule, drupe, legume and pome,
Where bark is papery, plated, warty or smooth.
But best of all are the words that shape the leaves —
Orbicular, cordate, cleft and reniform —
And their venation — palmate, and parallel —
And tips — acute, truncate, auriculate.
Sufficiently provided, you may now
Go forth to the forests and shady streets
To see how the chaos of experience
Answers to catalogue and category.
Confusedly.  The leaves of a single tree
May differ among themselves more than they do
From other species, so you have to find,
All blandly says the book, “an average leaf.”
Example, the catalpa in the book
Sprays out its leaves in whorls of three
Around the stem; the one in front of you
But rarely does, or somewhat, or almost;
Maybe it’s not catalpa?  Dreadful doubt.
It may be weeks before you see an elm
Fanlike in form, a spruce that pyramids,
A sweetgum spiring up in steeple shape.
Still, pedetemtim as Lucretius says,
Little by little, you do start to learn;
And learn as well, maybe, what language does
And how it does it, cutting across the world
Not always at the joints, competing with
Experience while cooperating with
Experience, and keeping an obstinate
Intransigence, uncanny, of its own.
Thinking finally about the secret will
Pretend obedience to Nature, but
Invidiously distinguishing everywhere,
Dividing up the world to conquer it,
And think also how funny knowledge is:
You may succeed in learning many trees
And calling off their names as you go by,
But their comprehensive silence stays the same.
                       “Learning Trees” ~ Howard Nemerov

Comments always are welcome. For more information on poet Howard Nemerov, click here.

 

Willows and Rain

The delicacy of spring’s regrowth ~ San Bernard Wildlife Refuge
(click image to enlarge)

 

A light exists in spring
Not present on the year
At any other period.
When March is scarcely here
A color stands abroad
On solitary hills
That science cannot overtake,
But human nature feels.
It waits upon the lawn;
It shows the furthest tree
Upon the furthest slope we know;
It almost speaks to me.
Then, as horizons step,
Or noons report away,
Without the formula of sound,
It passes, and we stay:
A quality of loss
Affecting our content,
As trade had suddenly encroached
Upon a sacrament.
                                                           ~ Emily Dickinson

 

Comments always are welcome.

Orpheus, Singing

In all seasons the crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) hears Orpheus, and heals

 

Orpheus with his lute made trees
And the mountain tops that freeze
Bow themselves when he did sing:
To his music plants and flowers
Ever sprung; as sun and showers
There had made a lasting spring.
Every thing that heard him play,
Even the billows of the sea,
Hung their heads and then lay by.
In sweet music is such art
Killing care and grief of heart
Fall asleep, or hearing, die.

 

                                                       Henry VIII – Act III, Scene 1 ~ William Shakespeare

 

Comments always are welcome.