Tree at My Window
Tree at my window, window tree,
My sash is lowered when night comes on;
But let there never be curtain drawn
Between you and me.
Vague dream head lifted out of the ground,
And thing next most diffuse to cloud,
Not all your light tongues talking aloud
Could be profound.
But tree, I have seen you taken and tossed,
And if you have seen me when I slept,
You have seen me when I was taken and swept
And all but lost.
That day she put our heads together,
Fate had her imagination about her,
Your head so much concerned with outer,
Mine with inner, weather.
Walt Whitman was born today, May 31, two-hundred years ago. I thought he was still around. I think of him north of where I live, and up into northern New England.
I wish I could give you a sprig of New England lilac, from the plants blooming in my yard, Walt Whitman.
You took it all in, the visible and the invisible, so that we would have it too. We need your generous, passionate, big, strong American heart. We’re becoming narrow and mean and selfish.
When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.
O powerful western fallen star!
O shades of night—O moody, tearful night!
O great star disappear’d—O the black murk that hides the star!
O cruel hands that hold me powerless—O helpless soul of me!
O harsh surrounding cloud that will not free my soul.
In the dooryard fronting an old farm-house near the white-wash’d palings,
Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle—and from this bush in the dooryard,
With delicate-color’d blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
A sprig with its flower I break.
In the swamp in secluded recesses,
A shy and hidden bird is warbling a song.
Solitary the thrush,
The hermit withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements,
Sings by himself a song.
Song of the bleeding throat,
Death’s outlet song of life, (for well dear brother I know,
If thou wast not granted to sing thou would’st surely die.)
Over the breast of the spring, the land, amid cities,
Amid lanes and through old woods, where lately the violets peep’d from the ground, spotting the gray debris,
Amid the grass in the fields each side of the lanes, passing the endless grass,
Passing the yellow-spear’d wheat, every grain from its shroud in the dark-brown fields uprisen,
Passing the apple-tree blows of white and pink in the orchards,
Carrying a corpse to where it shall rest in the grave,
Night and day journeys a coffin.
Coffin that passes through lanes and streets,
Through day and night with the great cloud darkening the land,
With the pomp of the inloop’d flags with the cities draped in black,
With the show of the States themselves as of crape-veil’d women standing,
With processions long and winding and the flambeaus of the night,
With the countless torches lit, with the silent sea of faces and the unbared heads,
With the waiting depot, the arriving coffin, and the sombre faces,
With dirges through the night, with the thousand voices rising strong and solemn,
With all the mournful voices of the dirges pour’d around the coffin,
The dim-lit churches and the shuddering organs—where amid these you journey,
With the tolling tolling bells’ perpetual clang,
Here, coffin that slowly passes,
I give you my sprig of lilac.
-from When Lilacs Last in the Doorway Bloomed by Walt Whitman
He is gone on the mountain,
He is lost to the forest,
Like a summer-dried fountain,
When our need was the sorest.
The font, reappearing,
From the raindrops shall borrow,
But to us comes no cheering,
To Duncan no morrow!
The hand of the reaper
Takes the ears that are hoary,
But the voice of the weeper
Wails manhood in glory.
The autumn winds rushing
Waft the leaves that are searest,
But our ﬂower was in ﬂushing,
When blighting was nearest.
Fleet foot on the correi,
Sage counsel in cumber,
Red hand in the foray,
How sound is thy slumber!
Like the dew on the mountain,
Like the foam on the river,
Like the bubble on the fountain,
Thou art gone, and forever.
-Sir Walter Scott 1772-1832
A coronach is a traditional Scottish funeral song, a memory now. It was an informal and personal tribute, part eulogy, part lament, part obituary. I post this old-fashioned rural poem on Memorial Day, in memory of those who have died in time of war, in acknowledgment of their personal qualities, in honor of the towns, neighborhoods and landscapes that shaped them, and in respect of those who mourned for them there.
Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.
And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.
All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.
And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.
And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace.
Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
-Dylan Thomas 1914-1963
Vested clergy, their souls
engorged by millennia
of annual hunts
for the elusive Lord Christ,
lead a caffeinated shuffle
across church parking lots.
Their parades track alleluias
and scatter astonishments past
sheds still mum.
Their processions spread praises
near dumfounded dumpsters,
as crane-neck lights blink and
doze off above them.
Wakened and softened by therapy
of the sun, soil underfoot waits
for seeds to be pressed in,
and for heavy root-ball offerings
to be presented from the knees,
to the altar of the earth,
prepared today, as on no other,
for glory and growth of mystery.
Spell for Encanto Creek
Tall blades of tufted grasses, keep on flowing.
Towhees like good ideas, keep on flowing.
Pooled water, black in shadow, green in sunshine,
with wild olives bending down to drink,
those figures coming daily to the bridge
to look at their two shadows on your surface,
keep them returning, keep them coming back.
Anything I praise praises your secret name–
the stream of the singing kettle,
a black night with stars sparking the bright branches,
fire furling about the oak in the grate,
the savor of soup, the mango seed I suck
not to waste the sweet fruit.
Don’t tell me your secret name,
No one–I want to sense it as the blind
tell words by touch, as the wind shivers
when the falcon soars from the thicket by the river,
rising with wings on fire toward the sun.
Margaret was one of the stars of the poetry world I invited to write an essay on a hymn or spiritual song for the anthology, Stars Shall Bend Their Voices.
A barn shall harbor heaven,
A stall become a shrine.
-Richard Wilbur 1921-2017