Denise Levertov

(24 October 1923 – 20 December 1997 / Ilford, Essex)

A Tree Telling of Orpheus


White dawn. Stillness.When the rippling began
      &nbs p;   I took it for sea-wind, coming to our valley with rumors
      &nb sp;   of salt, of treeless horizons. But the white fog
didn't stir; the leaves of my brothers remained outstretched,
unmoving.
   & nbsp;       &n bsp;       &nb sp;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.
      & nbsp;       &n bsp;       &nb sp;       Yet I was not afraid, only
        ;                 & nbsp;      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
      & nbsp;       &n bsp;       &nb sp;       &nbs p;         ; twigs at their ends,
and the head that's crowned by brown or golden grass,
bearing a face not like the beaked face of a bird,
      &nbs p;         ;     more like a flower's.
               & nbsp;       &n bsp;       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,
      &nb sp;       &nbs p;         ;                 & nbsp;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
       & nbsp;       &n bsp;    as if rain
        ;                 & nbsp;      rose from below and around me
       & nbsp;       &n bsp;    instead of falling.
And what I felt was no longer a dry tingling:
               & nbsp;     I seemed to be singing as he sang, I seemed to know
        ;              what the lark knows; all my sap
                & nbsp;       &n bsp;      was mounting towards the sun that by now
                & nbsp;       &n bsp;      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:
      &nb sp;       &nbs p;     the bark thrilled like a leaf still-folded.
Music! There was no twig of me not
                & nbsp;       &n bsp;      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
      & nbsp;       &n bsp;     came into my roots
      &nbs p;         ;                out of the earth,
      &nb sp;       &nbs p;     into my bark
        ;                 & nbsp;      out of the air,
into the pores of my greenest shoots
      &nb sp;   gently as dew
and there was no word he sang but I knew its meaning.
He told me of journeys,
           of where sun and moon go while we stand in dark,
      &nbs p;   of an earth-journey he dreamed he would take some day
deeper than roots ...
He told of the dreams of man, wars, passions, griefs,
      &n bsp;   and I, a tree, understood words – ah, it seemed
my thick bark would split like a sapling's that
        ;                 & nbsp;      grew too fast in the spring
when a late frost wounds it.

      &n bsp;       &nb sp;       &nbs p;         ;          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.
      &n bsp;   As though his lyre (now I knew its name)
      &nbs p;   were both frost and fire, its chords flamed
up to the crown of me.
           I was seed again.
      &nb sp;       &nbs p;     I was fern in the swamp.
      &nb sp;       &nbs p;         ;                 & nbsp;I was coal.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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