Knowledge

- 1897-1970

Now that I know
How passion warms little
Of flesh in the mould,
And treasure is brittle,—

I’ll lie here and learn
How, over their ground,
Trees make a long shadow
And a light sound.

Elders

At night the moon shakes the bright dice of the water;
And the elders, their flower light as broken snow upon the bush,
Repeat the circle of the moon.

Within the month
Black fruit breaks from the white flower.
The black-wheeled berries turn
Weighing the boughs over the road.
There is no harvest.
Heavy to withering, the black wheels bend
Ripe for the mouths of chance lovers,
Or birds.

      Twigs show again in the quick cleavage of season and season.
      The elders sag over the powdery road-bank,
      As though they bore, and it were too much,
      The seed of the year beyond the year.

Related Poems

The Sound of the Trees

I wonder about the trees. 
Why do we wish to bear 
Forever the noise of these 
More than another noise 
So close to our dwelling place?
We suffer them by the day 
Till we lose all measure of pace, 
And fixity in our joys, 
And acquire a listening air. 
They are that that talks of going      
But never gets away; 
And that talks no less for knowing, 
As it grows wiser and older, 
That now it means to stay. 
My feet tug at the floor
And my head sways to my shoulder 
Sometimes when I watch trees sway, 
From the window or the door. 
I shall set forth for somewhere, 
I shall make the reckless choice
Some day when they are in voice 
And tossing so as to scare 
The white clouds over them on. 
I shall have less to say, 
But I shall be gone.

After

I will not walk in the wood to-night,
I will not stand by the water’s edge
And see day lie on the dusk’s bright ledge
Until it turn, a star at its breast,
To rest.

I will not see the wide-flung hills
Closing darkly about my grief,
I wore a crown of their lightest leaf,
But now they press like a cold, blue ring,
Imprisoning.

I dare not meet that caroling blade,
Jauntily drawn in the sunset pine,
Stabbing me with its thrust divine,
Knowing my naked, aching need,
Till I bleed.

Sheathe your song, invincible bird,
Strike not at me with that flashing note,
Have pity, have pity, persistent throat,
Deliver me not to your dread delight
To-night!

I am afraid of the creeping wood,
I am afraid of the furtive trees,
Hiding behind them, memories,
Ready to spring, to clutch, to tear,
Wait for me there.

Geometry

My window looks upon a wood
That stands as tangled as it stood
When God was centuries too young
To care how right he worked, or wrong,
His patterns in obedient trees,
Unprofited by the centuries
He still plants on as crazily
As in his drivelling infancy.

Poor little elms beneath the oak!
They thrash their arms around and poke
At tyrant throats, and try to stand
Straight up, like owners of the land;
For they expect the vainest things,
And even the boniest have their flings.

Hickory shoots unnumbered rise,
Sallow and wasting themselves in sighs,
Children begot at a criminal rate
In the sight of a God that is profligate.
The oak-trees tower over all,
They seem to rise above the brawl,
They seem but just observe the hoax,
They are obscured by other oaks!
They laugh the weaklings out of mind,
And fight forever with their kind.

For oaks are spindling too, and bent,
And only strong by accident;
And if there is a single tree
Of half the size it ought to be,
It need not give him thanks for that,
He did not plan its habitat.

When tree-tops go to pushing so,
There’s every evil thing below;
There s clammy fungus everywhere,
And poison waving on the air,
A plague of insects from the pool
To sting some ever-trusting fool,
Serpents issuing from the foot
Of oak-trees rotten at the root,
Owls and frogs and whippoorwills,
Cackling of all sorts of ills.

Imagine what a pretty thing
The slightest landscape-gardening
Had made of God’s neglected wood!
I’m glad man has the hardihood
To tamper with creation’s plan
And shape it worthier of man.
Imagine woods and sun-swept spaces,
Shadows and lights in proper places,
Trees just touching friendly-wise,
Bees and flowers and butterflies.

An easy thing to improve on God,
Simply the knowing of even from odd,
Simply to count and then dispose
In patterns everybody knows,
Simply to follow curve and line
In geometrical design.

Gardeners only cut their trees
For nobler regularities.
But from my window I have seen
The noblest patch of quivering green
Lashed till it never quivered again.
God had a fit of temper then,
And spat shrill wind and lightning out
At twinges of some godly gout.

But as for me, I keep indoors
Whenever he starts his awful roars.
What can one hope of a crazy God
But lashings from an aimless rod?