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.
Interested in buying a book mentioned in this post? Do you want to support our work in the process? Consider using the NaturalistWeekly’s Bookshop.org storefront. NaturalistWeekly.com is an affiliate of Bookshop.org and I may receive a small commission if you buy a book fromBookshop.org.