The morning sun was muted as it pushed through the trailing clouds from last night’s storm. The ground was still wet and water droplets clung to the maple leaves. The little birches were starting to show the signs of the changing seasons, while the white pine stood stoically on the edge of the road. I paused and gazed up at trees. Standing under their canopy of leaves I said to myself, there is poetry in these trees.
As it just so happens, I am not the only one who thought about poetry while admiring the trees. Poets such as Joy Harjo and Joyce Kilmer have also proclaimed this connection between the trees and poetry.
“Trees” by Joyce Kilmer.
In 1913 Joyce Kilmer published “Trees” in Poetry Magazine. “Trees” became his most famous poem and was then reprinted in his 1914 book Trees and Other Poems.
I think that I shall never see A poem lovely as a tree. A tree whose hungry mouth is prest Against the sweet earth's flowing breast; A tree that looks at God all day, And lifts her leafy arms to pray; A tree that may in summer wear A nest of robins in her hair; Upon whose bosom snow has lain; Who intimately lives with rain. Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree.
For Kilmer, the mere existence of a tree is poetry. And a tree’s poetry exceeds any poem that can be created by a human.
“Speaking Tree” by Joy Harjo
Joy Harjo was appointed to a third term as US Poet Laureate in November 2020. Harjo is the author of nine books of poetry and the winner of many literary awards including the 2013 PEN Center USA literary prize for creative nonfiction for her memoir Crazy Brave.
In “Speaking Tree“, Harjo explores her place in the natural world and her relationship to all things
I had a beautiful dream I was dancing with a tree. —Sandra Cisneros Some things on this earth are unspeakable: Genealogy of the broken— A shy wind threading leaves after a massacre, Or the smell of coffee and no one there— Some humans say trees are not sentient beings, But they do not understand poetry— Nor can they hear the singing of trees when they are fed by Wind, or water music— Or hear their cries of anguish when they are broken and bereft— Now I am a woman longing to be a tree, planted in a moist, dark earth Between sunrise and sunset— I cannot walk through all realms— I carry a yearning I cannot bear alone in the dark— What shall I do with all this heartache? The deepest-rooted dream of a tree is to walk Even just a little ways, from the place next to the doorway— To the edge of the river of life, and drink— I have heard trees talking, long after the sun has gone down: Imagine what would it be like to dance close together In this land of water and knowledge. . . To drink deep what is undrinkable.
In this poem, Harjo says that people who assume that trees are not sentient beings do not understand the poetry. Perhaps, as a person begins to understand poetry, they can begin to understand the beauty of the unseen communication of the trees. Or, perhaps as people begin to connect to the natural world, they will begin to speak like poets.
You can listen to Joy Harjo read “Speaking Tree” on her webpage.
Are you inspired to write poetry while spending times with the trees? Feel free to share in the comments below.
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You are welcome 🙏.
Ah, trees trees trees. Living poetry, like flowers and waterfalls. The first two lines of Joyce Kilmer’s poem are popular, but reading the other lines is rewarding. Such a good line of the tree lifting “her leafy arms to pray.” Thanks for sharing this celebration of nature.
Hi Dave, I was happy to find both of these poems this week. It is that time of year here in the north east where I become acutely aware of the trees as we get closer to fall. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Your tree poetry was the best way to start today! Thank you!
I am so glad you enjoyed these! I thought they were a good fit for Sunday morning.
Marvellous post! You have me thinking about the big oak in a neighbour’s garden and how much its presence and the life that it supports affects this neighbourhood. There is surely a poem to be written about it. I’ll let you know! 🙋♂️
Hi Ashley, I’ll keep an eye out for the poem! Thanks for the comment and sharing your thoughts.
Here’s one I wrote honoring trees awhile back:
Very nice poem! Thanks for sharing. I really like the visual form of your poem. It adds to the experience of reading.
You’re welcome and thanks, Mark.
I feel inclined first to apologize for posting this here, it’s a very different type of poem, but yes, I actually did write this, while in the woods (surrounded by trees) doing field work in 2001 (in South Carolina). I dug this out of a pile of poems I wrote while doing field work, which I called “field poetry” – and read this now makes me laugh. I hope you enjoy. 😉
One day in the woods… (by L Bowen 2001)
One day in the woods
I met a pig
that was very big
it grunted and snorted
but I retorted
and then in a rush
it rain off through the brush
and as it went
I walked into a tent
of spider web
that stuck to my head
and the spider fell
on my lapel
so I looked down
towards the ground
and brushed it off
with a bit of moss
and when I looked up
I was awe struck
for I was lost
and I had tossed
away my map
which was covered with sap
from the big pine tree
when I’d bumped by knee
stepping over a log
to avoid the hog
as I watched for birds
that sang not a word
so looked up when one chirped
and a piece of dirt
fell into my eye
which made me cry
so I could not see
the vine on the tree
which was poison ivy
so now I’m all hivey…
so just let me say
“Oh, what a day!”
My formatting got messed up when posting just now – it wasn’t originally written in a paragraph format, but a long string of short lines.
What a day indeed! I really like this because it is not only a story of a series of unfortunate events, but it always highlights the interconnected nature of all things. I read this and think about how every action we take has a consequence. Some are small, and some are larger, but every action has impact. Thanks for sharing!
Dear Mark and LizzieBird,
I have enjoyed reading your respective tree-inspired poems. Thank you for your poetic efforts.
I shall resonate with your love of trees as follows:
Very nice! Thank you for sharing.
Trees are stoic and been around for centuries inspiring poets.
Hi Diana, I was actually thinking I could do a Trees Are Poetry part 2 and part 3. There is so much out there about the trees!
A great Post! Trees do have a poetry all their own. I love to sit and listen to the wind blowing gently through the trees.
Hi Dwight, I agree! It is almost a meditative experience.
Yes, great medicine for the brain!
Very meaningful message! Thank you
Thanks Nao! Glad you liked it.
I’ve always had a fascination with dead trees. There’s something so primal and powerful about these skeletal giants, the way the light (sun or moon) plays on barren branches, the stillness and forlorn silence they evoke. I grew up on a farm in SE Utah. About a mile away was the dead husk of a towering Ponderosa pine. This thing had been standing, dead, since before my mom was born in 1940. I called it the Landmark Tree. Whenever I was away from the farm and heading home, as soon as I saw its solemn form above the surrounding junipers and pinyon pines, I knew I was close to home. Later, when I became involved in nature photography, I made sure to make a few images of this tree. I haven’t visited the farm in more than six years now, but I still think about this old Landmark Tree. I have no idea if it’s still standing or if lightning or wind or wildfire has finally taken it down. It’s sort of amazing how something as simple as a tee–even a dead one–can have such a profound impact on a person…but nature is magical that way, I suppose. As always, a wonderful essay, Mark, and I really enjoyed the poems you included (Kilmer’s was familiar, o’ course; Harjo’s was new to me and a delight).
Hi Mike, thanks so much for the comment and sharing your memories of the Ponderosa pine. It is kind of amazing how we have these types of connections to trees or rocks or other natural objects. To me it reminds me that we aren’t separate from nature, but a part of it. Thanks again for visiting. Be well!
Wow!!! These are just gorgeous. Nothing more beautiful than poetry about trees. ❤
Hi Amber, thanks so much for visiting. I am glad that you enjoyed the post. Trees are definitely amazing parts of our world.