The Tree


Light in the light lack trees: and a slight longing
over the silhouette and into me.
The branches reach out in the melted-stone air;
promiscuous are the water-free twigs and buds;
and now, acknowledging the many-shelved space
of april evening, nature’s transference,
a bird is held at peace.


Thousands of butterflies upon the branches,
yellow-winged flies, perched, restless, resting;

golden fingernails, fire-opals, flute-warbled singing,
fragments of sun, floodforce buttercups –

early leaves
stirred by the wind.


Branches, like the fingers of a hand
thrust up, and caught about, held the day,
and so it was amongst the wood and leaves.
The bark, with shadowed brown and lines of black,
light touched upon, and everywhere around,
behind and to the side, slightly in front,
whistled and rose something more than leaves,
so many shapes, green upon brown, and lines
reached out all over the hand carrying life.

I saw this in the light time after work,
before the sun went down, and saw the leaves
by their fresh independent look. It seemed
as though I was held back. I had the day
but did not give of true cast-out enjoyment.

But then there was possession by the tree
of every voice of life, including me.

The sun shone bright on the leaves.


This ordinary branch
recorded the sun.
It is a silent song.


They trap the light in summer evening darkness,
a kitchen window colony of leaves.
O I am drawn into that open blackness.

The branches are my strength, and those thin nerves
strike rich in handfuls of here-there sensations,
fresh, clean, and slightly wet.
Now the cold air
is caught, expelled.
It is myself I hear,
shivering, rasped by troubles, breathing in fear.

In the electric day is blind despair!

How surely nature calms a man’s impatience.


And now they turn half yellow
that let the light through, people of a clan.
And they die well
that hold on while they can, and then let go.
They do not know
more than a sequence, that the seasons follow.

For it is right to die.
The fruits, small pips and berries, have appeared:
and all shall lie
where they were reared, under the massing soil.
They took their part
with summer heart
in a country dance, a spree, and a gala royal.

And each shall soon come free –
itself, detached – and so to earth,
there to collaborate: at last to gain
another birth.
Their colour now is plain
that leave the tree.

And yet I wish this time had not to be.


The wind can break the branches,
but still the tree is dressed;
and though the night is on them,
the leaves are at their beast;
and though it is October
they will not take the hint;
in light from yellow windows
     they rustle, wave and glint.

The wind upbraids the night-air,
upsets the branches’ poise;
a head of hair in the black night
is savaged with white noise –
and there is light in their movement,
leaves dance as the tree is thinned;
and day stays on as summer braves
the domineering wind.


And now a dialogue, branch-strands and leaves
moving slightly, turning in each other’s words:

The wood, swelling and spreading from the same core,
thrusting conviction out on different lines,
out and out, along related branches
to separate twining delicacies that touch
everywhere. More cheerful are the leaves,
holding their own, unafraid of force
which though it conquers, lives with less effect:
for colour is the fruit of all perception.
So they fight on, induced by the wind and time,
the leaves spattering in the spider’s web,
yet free of the strands; and the giant tree
proud of its dark skill, glad of its green gifts.

It is in nature’s character to talk
mysteriously, and yet to be quite clear…


The leaves are gone.
Raised up strongly as stone
(in a morning and afternoon of winter light)
stands the tree’s bone.

Stormed by a gust of birds – unruffled, firm,
now coming alive in my sight,
bird-haunted – crossed bewilderingly with shape and form,
antennae, structure of deer-horn, giraffe-neck, worm –

form-bursting, it spreads itself upon
minor attitudes – but its name has gone.
like stone.
A mad old man, a king of kings,
a windy skeleton.

Its name, its wealth, its life, the leaves are gone.


Yet above all
it stands – and a few leaves hang on,

poor stubborn light brown things.

Perhaps, half-born, a small
butterfly pupa clings
curled up in one. Let that leaf not fall.

As may appear in this and that poem I had been helped over a precarious time simply by the sight of trees. This one (a black poplar) lived outside the kitchen of a first-floor flat in Islington where I had a room for the best part of a year. I used to read and write next to the open window.

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