song from a forest, sailing

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Posted by Cricket on 03/02/02 - 23:58:27
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[from Denise Levertov's poem, "A Tree Telling of Orpheus"]

White dawn.  Stillness.      When the rippling began
     I took it for sea-wind, coming to our valley with rumors
     of salt, of treeless horizons.  But the white fog
didn't stir; the leaves of my brothers remained outstretched,
           Yet the rippling drew nearer -- and then
my own outermost branches began to tingle, almost as if
fire had been lit below them, too close, and their twig-tips
were drying and curling.
                 Yet I was not afraid, only
                 deeply alert.

I was the first to see him, for I grew
           out on the pasture slope, beyond the forest.
He was a man, it seemed: the two
moving stems, the short trunk, the two
arm-branches, flexible, each with five leafless
                                         twigs at their ends,
and the head that's crowned by brown or gold grass,
bearing a face not like the beaked face of the bird,
     more like a flower's.
                             He carried a burden made of
some cut branch bent while it was green,
strands of a vine tight-stretched across it.  From this,
when he touched it, and from his voice
which unlike the wind's voice had no need of our
leaves and branches to complete its sound,
                                               came the ripple.
But it was now no longer a ripple (he had come near and stopped in my first shadow) it was a wave that bathed me
                 as if rain
                             rose from below and around me
                 instead of falling.
And what I felt was no longer a dry tingling:
     I seemed to be singing as he sang, I seemed to know
     what the lark knows; all my sap
           was mounting towards the sun that by now
                 had risen, the mist was rising, the grass
was drying, yet my roots felt music moisten them
deep under earth.

           He came still closer, leaned on my trunk:
           the bark thrilled like a leaf still-folded.
Music!  There was no twig of me not
                                   trembling with joy and fear.

Then as he sang
it was no longer sounds only that made the music:
he spoke, and as no tree listens I listened, and language
                 came into my roots
                                   out of the earth,
                       into my bark
                                   out of the air,
                       into the pores of my greenest shoots
                                         gently as dew
and there was no word he sang but I knew its meaning.
He told of journeys,
           of where sun and moon go while we stand in dark,
of an earth-journey he dreamed he would take some day
deeper than roots...
He told of the dreams of man, wars, passions, griefs,
     and I, a tree, understood words -- ah, it seemed
my thick bark would split like a sapling's that
                                   grew too fast in the spring
when a late frost wounds it.

                                         Fire he sang,
that trees fear, and I, a tree, rejoiced in its flames.
New buds broke forth from me though it was full summer.
     As though his lyre (now I knew its name)
     were both frost and fire, its chords flamed
up to the crown of me.
           I was seed again.
                             I was fern in the swamp.
                                         I was coal.

You would have thought we would lose the sound of the lyre,
                             of the singing
so dreadful the storm-sounds were, where there was no storm,
                       no wind but the rush of our
           branches moving, our trunks breasting the air.
                       But the music!
                                         The music reached us.

           stumbling over our own roots,
                                         rustling our leaves
                                                     in answer,
we moved, we followed.

All day we followed, up hill and down.
                                         We learned to dance,
for he would stop, where the ground was flat,
                                               and words he said
taught us to leap and to wind in and out
around one another   in figures   the lyre's measure designed.
The singer
           laughed till he wept to see us, he was so glad.
                                                     At sunset
we came to this place I stand in, this knoll
with its ancient grove that was bare grass then.
           In the last light of that day his song became
           He stilled our longing.
           He sang our sun-dried rots back into earth,
watered them: all-night rain of music so quiet
                                         we could almost
           not hear it in the
                                   moonless dark.
By dawn he was gone.
We have stood here since,
in our new life.
                 We have waited.
                                   He does not return.
It is said he made his earth-journey, and lost
what he sought.
                 It is said they felled him
and cut up his limbs for firewood.
                                   And it is said
his head still sang and was swept out to sea singing.
Perhaps he will not return.
                             But what we have lived
comes back to us.
                 We see more.
                             We feel, as our rings increase,
something that lifts our branches, that stretches our furthest
                                               leaf tips
     The wind, the birds,
                             do not sound poorer but clearer,
recalling our agony, and the way we danced.
The music!


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