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,
& 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.
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