Learning the Trees
Before you can learn the trees, you have to learn
The language of the trees. That's done indoors,
Out of a book, which now you think of it
Is one of the transformations of a tree.
The words themselves are a delight to learn,
You might be in a foreign land of terms
Like samara, capsule, drupe, legume and pome,
Where bark is papery, plated, warty or smooth.
But best of all are the words that shape the leaves –
Orbicular, cordate, cleft and reniform –
And their venation – palmate and parallel –
And tips – acute, truncate, auriculate.
Sufficiently provided, you may now
Go forth to the forests and the shady streets
To see how the chaos of experience
Answers to catalogue and category.
Confusedly. The leaves of a single tree
May differ among themselves more than they do
From other species, so you have to find,
All blandly says the book, "an average leaf."
Example, the catalpa in the book
Sprays out its leaves in whorls of three
Around the stem; the one in front of you
But rarely does, or somewhat, or almost;
Maybe it's not catalpa? Dreadful doubt.
It may be weeks before you see an elm
Fanlike in form, a spruce that pyramids,
A sweetgum spiring up in steeple shape.
Still, pedetemtim as Lucretious says,
Little by little, you do start to learn;
And learn as well, maybe, what language does
And how it does it, cutting across the world
Not always at the joints, competing with
Experience while cooperating with
Experience, and keeping an obstinate
Intransigence, uncanny, of its own.
Think finally about the secret will
Pretending obedience to Nature, but
Invidiously distinguishing everywhere,
Dividing up the world to conquer it.
And think also how funny knowledge is:
You may succeed in learning many trees
And calling off their names as you go by,
But their comprehensive silence stays the same.
Howard Nemerov's Other Poems
Read this poem in other languages
This poem has not been translated into any other language yet.
Comments about this poem (Learning the Trees by Howard Nemerov )
- Mercenary, Babatunde Aremu
- Then, SALINI NAIR
- Beauty Does Shine, Rohit Sapra
- The Poster Girl's Defence, Carolyn Wells
- The love obituary, Kenneth Maswabi
- Marina Tsvetaeva Every poem is a child.., valentin savin
- Tribute to Otieno Kajwang (Bwana Bado Ma.., Amos O. Ojwang'
- On A Calm Summer Night, Eve Carter
- Accepting Human Nature, Ima Ryma
- and then a cliff where i fall again., RIC S. BASTASA
Poem of the Day
- The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost
- Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, Dylan Thomas
- Phenomenal Woman, Maya Angelou
- A Coat, William Butler Yeats
- Still I Rise, Maya Angelou
- Fire and Ice, Robert Frost
- Where The Mind Is Without Fear, Rabindranath Tagore
- If, Rudyard Kipling
- A Challenge To The Dark, Charles Bukowski
- November, Thomas Hood
(March 26, 1874 – January 29, 1963)
(10 December 1830 – 15 May 1886)
(4 April 1928 - 28 May 2014)
(16 August 1920 – 9 March 1994)
(7 May 1861 – 7 August 1941)
William Butler Yeats
(13 June 1865 – 28 January 1939)
(12 July 1904 – 23 September 1973)
(27 October 1914 – 9 November 1953)
(28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827)
(April 13,1939 - August 30, 2013)