Three Tree Poems
There is a Yew tree, pride of Lorton vale,
Which to this day stands single, in the midst
Of its own darkness as it did of Yore:
Not loath to furnish weapons for the bands
Of Umfraville and Percy ere they marched
To Scotland’s heaths; or those that crossed the sea
To draw their sounding bows at Azincour,
Perhaps at earlier Crecy, or Poictiers.
Of vast circumference and of gloom profound
This solitary tree!–a living thing
Produced too slowly ever too decay,
Of form and aspect too magnificent
To be destroyed. But worthier still of note
Are those fraternal four of Borrowdale,
Joined in one solemn and capacious grove;
Huge trunks!–and each particular trunk
A growth of intertwisted fibers serpentine
Up-coiling, and inveterately convolved,–
Nor uninformed with phantasy, and looks
That threaten the profane;–a pillared shade
Upon whose grassless floor of red-brown hue
By sheddings of the pining umbrage tinged
Perennially–beneath whose sable roof
Of boughs, as if for festal purpose decked
With unrejoicing berries, ghostly shapes
May meet at noontide: Fear and trembling Hope,
Silence and Foresight, Death the skeleton
And Time the Shadow; there to celebrate,
As in a natural temple scattered oe’r
With altars undisturbed of mossy stone,
United worship; or in mute repose
To lie, and Listen to the mountain flood
Murmuring from Glaramara’s inmost caves.
Robert Penn Warren
The oaks, how subtle and marine,
Bearded, and all the layered light
Above them swims; and thus the scene,
Recessed, awaits the positive night.
So, waiting, we in grass now lie
Beneath the languorous tread of light:
The grasses, kelp-like, satisfy
The nameless motions of the air.
Upon the floor of light, of time,
Unmurmuring, of polyp made,
We rest; We are, as light withdraws,
Twin atolls on a shelf of shade.
Ages to our construction went
Dim architecture, hour by hour,
And violence, forgot now, lent
The present stillness all its power.
The storm of noon above us rolled,
Of light and glory, furious gold
The long drag troubling us, the depth:
Dark is unrocking, unrippling, still.
Passion and slaughter, ruth, decay
Descend, minutely whispering down,
Silted down swaying streams to lay
Foundation for our voicelessness.
All our debate is voiceless here.
As all our rage, the rage of stone;
If hope is hopeless, then fearless fear,
And history is thus undone.
Our feet once wrought the hollow street
With echo when the lamps were dead
At windows, once our headlight glare
Disturbed the doe that, leaping, fled.
I do not love you less that now
The caged heart makes iron stroke,
Or less that all that light once gave
The graduate dark should now revoke.
We live in time so little time
And we learn all so painfully
That we can spare this hour’s term
In practice for eternity.
Trying to Tell you Something
Robert Penn Warren
All things lean toward you and some are
Are trying to tell you something, though of some
The heart is too full for speech. On a hill,
The oak, immense, older than Jamestown or God, splitting
With its own weight at the great inverted
Crotch, air-spread and ice-hung, ringed with iron
Like barrel-hoops, only heavier, massive rods
Running through and bolted, and higher, the cables,
Which in summer are hidden by green leaves—the oak,
It is trying to tell you something. It wants,
In its fullness of years, to describe to you
What happens on a December night when
It stands alone in a world of whiteness. The moon is full.
You can hear the stars crackle in their high brightness.
It is ten below zero, and the iron
Of hoops and reinforcement rods is continuing to contract.
There is the rhythm of a slow throb, like pain. The wind,
Northwest, is steady, and in the wind, the cables,
In a thin-honed and disinfectant purity, like
A dentist’s drill, sing. They sing
Of truth, and its beauty. The oak
Wants to declare this to you, so that you
Will not be unprepared when, some December night,
You stand on a hill, in a world of whiteness, and
Stare into the crackling absoluteness of the sky. The oak
Wants to tell you because, at that moment,
In your own head, the cables will sing
With a thin-honed and disinfectant purity,
And no one can predict the consequences.