Saturday, April 13, 2013

The names of the trees

One fine day, several summers ago,I took a walk through the Thorne Swift Nature Preserve in Emmet County MI. It is one of the many splendid preserves they have in Northern Michigan under the aegis (never thought I'd have a chance to use that word!) of the Little Traverse Conservancy. We have just given most of our land to the LTC for a wildlife and nature preserve. Here is an article about that new preserve (It is on page 3 of the current newsletter!) 

Tonight when I needed some trees to go with this W.S. Merwin poem, I had these ready in digital form.


Neither my father or my mother knew
the names of the trees
where I was born
what is that
I asked and my
father and mother did not
hear they did not look where I pointed
surfaces of furniture held
the attention of their fingers
and across the room they could watch
walls they had forgotten
where there were no questions
no voices and no shade

Were there trees
where they were children
where I had not been
I asked
were there trees in those places
where my mother and father were born
and in that time did
my father and my mother see them
and when they said yes it meant
that they did not remember
What were they I asked what were they
but both my mother and my father said
they never knew

Poem by W,S,Merwin from The Rain in the Trees, page 6.

Why I love typing out a poem by Merwin and thus having to look at it carefully (I don't type that fast!)is that he doesn't need all the superstructure to do the work. You can tell where people are speaking, where the question marks are. You get a capital letter now and then, but not always with a stanza break. And you can hear the child voice and the remembering adult voice at the same time. Write a poem in this manner! You will learn a lot!
Perhaps you already know that a big part of Merwin's later life is the restoration of damaged land he has in Hawaii. He tried to restore the native trees, but the land wouldn't work for that any more. So he has made a plantation of palm trees from all over; he's founded a conservancy to carry on the work. On its web page is another great tree poem! Sleep tight!

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