A Leafless Tree

October 12, 2013

A leafless tree should be
like an old man falling in love,
the way, he imagines himself
by imagining his bride to be.
She warms him even as
the winter ice stills his blood.
Call it the vitals of our being.
Call it a last breeze, our marrow.
Suppose a leafless tree
is a poetry of the self,
a great rhapsody of frozen earth
holding and preserving living roots.
Suppose the song it sings
is inside an ancient and specific man,
a mystery tree growing there.

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3 Responses to “A Leafless Tree”

  1. extrasimile Says:

    Thomas, I’d forgotten how good it is to hear one’s voice echoed back—though in a different form—as in a vast black cave, mysterious and true—no ‘echoed’ is the wrong word, is ‘amplified’ better? Then the cave is not empty?
    I hope all is well with you. I see you have moved back to Wisconsin. To me, your imagination always seemed to thrive in the high desert environment. Ethel’s too for that matter—perhaps maybe more so. It will be interesting to see how your poetry changes—or, if it does. Joyce presumably had to leave Dublin to write about it.
    It is perspicacious of you both to see the sonnet lurking around this poem; it started its life as a sonnet—or at least a something much closer to a traditional sonnet. I’d like to think I kept the odd combination of snapshot and syllogism-like argument that the sonnet offers.
    There are in fact (at least in my mind) four levels of discourse here: the first sentence, the second sentence, the third and forth sentences, and then the last two. That the last seven lines (seven!) are an ‘invitation’ to expand the metaphor, is an excellent way to think about it, and one I hadn’t quite thought about. Thank you, Thomas.
    Is this, ‘the calling to the divine inside the self of individual men and women’?
    It might be nice to read Wallace Stevens’ ‘Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour’ right now. It would be nice for the three of us to do it together some time, wouldn’t it?

  2. John Stevens Says:

    I’m glad Thomas Davis commented first. I enjoyed this poem, Jim, and was very alive to the force of that image of the leafless tree – but Thomas has drawn my thoughts a little farther and opened it up even more for me. The structure for instance: Thomas having pointed out the turn after line 8 makes me appreciate how close it is to a sonnet.

  3. Thomas Davis Says:

    There is a central turn here, Jim. The first eight lines create and explicate a startling metaphor: How a leafless tree should be (the should is important, of course, as opposed to is) like an old man falling in love imagining his bride to be. The tree, and the man’s, imagination of his bride “warms him even as the winter ice still his blood.” It is this imagination that is the vitality of our being, the last breeze in a leafless tree or an old man falling in love, the marrow of who we are.
    But then we move from the metaphor. We are invited to expand the metaphor. “Suppose a leafless tree/is a poetry of the self,/a great rhapsody of frozen earth holding and preserving living roots.” So the tree is more than a metaphor of an old man falling in love. It is a metaphor of how the self, even in the winter of our discontent, to reference Steinbeck and Shakespeare, is the poetry of the self each human is, evidence in the self of living roots that have not disappeared in the cold, but still exist beneath the frozen earth.
    Then you seem to reflect upon the idea of Robert Graves: Suppose the song the tree sings is inside an ancient and specific man,/a mystery tree growing there.” Rather than a metaphor, the tree becomes man and tree and song and inspiration. It is part of the mystery of life and the rolling lives behind each human and animal alive, a reminder of humanity, a rhapsody of frozen earth that sings the poetry of endless selves–the mysteries of the ancient White Goddess of the Celts or the gods of the Greeks–the calling to the divine inside the self of individual men and women.
    You are truly a poet.


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