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Sunday, 13 December 2009

Trees like us.

Like fingers flicking over books with eczema
(ancient books with leather bindings, in the main),
the car lights seem to hesitate on each
erect or leaning London plane -
the odd one leaning, reeling maybe, from the weight
of all that learning locked inside.
The spines, so smudged with soot
and halogen, betray no titles. Patched
and scaly sages, they remind us
of the boundaries that nature draws
round vision, they and those
frail sapling paperbacks,
who here and there have found a home
in what were narrow spaces, they
and the odd weighty tome
that squeezed in horizontally,
too tall to stand upright.


Behind them, sealed in pathless darkness,
a great wood stretches to infinity,
but these sad London planes,
each one an interface between the unknown
and ourselves, our world
and that opacity - the border guards,
as we might like to think of them,
denying or permitting access to
that darkling world of learning
to their rear. Could we but take one down
and open it like those at home,
a world might open in its turn:
horizons we could not have guessed,
bright looms of morning light.


They draw up wisdom from the soil,
absorb it from the air.
They store it in the grain.
and feed it to the millipedes
that live beneath the bark.
The spiders spin it in their webs;
you hear it in the groans
and creaks, the timbre of each voice. It speaks
a thousand languages, and scribes the wood
with arcane signs like charged Rosetta Stones.


If we could prise the boards apart
and cut the uncut leaves,
achieve for them what still eludes...
Unqualified transparency - would not that form
the perfect attribute for any London plane?
A tree entirely open to the gaze,
complete with soundtrack, growth and rending,
a universe once worlds away, at home in ours,
a world with all its life and lives intact,
decay and growth and mini beasts;
the struggle for survival and the end in death,
tides that rise, turn, fall and vanish out of sight,
the laughter and the tears of life that wills to live.

22 comments:

A Cuban In London said...

'A tree entirely open to the gaze,
complete with soundtrack, growth and rending,'

A beautiful line, indeed. To me your poem represented more than just the mere idea of vegetation; it was also life itself, offering itself to me. Sometimes raw, sometimes sophisticated.

Marvellous piece, many thanks.

Greetings from London.

Dianne said...

I have to re-read this many times, a long and loving poem. I see the "tree-hugger" in you! Ha!Thanks for your comments, you encourage me to continue.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Dave - lovely words - thoughtful and deep. I think we often forget that trees are the oldest living things on earth and as such hold such history inside them.

enchantedoak said...

This was especially beautiful. These lines stunned me:
"They draw up wisdom from the soil,
absorb it from the air.
They store it in the grain.
and feed it to the millipedes
that live beneath the bark."

Kass said...

What a beautiful poem. So many of the lines have five or six metrical feet. I love the interplay between trees and books.

Shadow said...

this is more than just trees here right?!?! this is about the soul...

lakeviewer said...

Trees and books, and our connections. This is superb. Profound.

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

Dear David, I feel something strongly familiar in the lyric tension of this work of yours. This poem is a hymn I really enjoyed.
"If we could prise the boards apart"...great rhythm and voice.
One question: what do you mean exactly by London plane, a London plane-tree? I ask you this question because I was so taken in the past by plane-trees myself and wrote a poem on them but ( my being second language English person can always be the cause I'm afraid ) I didn't know you could call them "planes" without "trees".
I very well understand the "eczema" simile, since I noted "it" repetedly on their bark, on our roads

Carl said...

I shall wander in this lovely poem for some time! Thank You Dave!

Carl

Karen said...

As usual, your poem takes us deep within the subject, the planes, and ourselves. You're the philosopher-poet, Dave, and I can't stop thinking about these lines:

A tree entirely open to the gaze,
complete with soundtrack, growth and rending,
a universe once worlds away, at home in ours,
a world with all its life and lives intact,
decay and growth and mini beasts;
the struggle for survival and the end in death,
tides that rise, turn, fall and vanish out of sight,
the laughter and the tears of life that wills to live.

Harlequin said...

lovely... it almost has a tenderness about it; and for some reason, the line that is still calling me is the one where you use the phrase " border guards "... given that all the language is quite compelling, I am not sure why that line in particular is so resonant... ah well, that is the joy of a good read :)

Derrick said...

Hi Dave,

Great richness here and much learning. I like the third stanza in particular.

Dave King said...

A Cuban in London
Yes, it was meant to speak of more than vegetation, you are correct: it was meant as life itself. Thanks for the endorsement.

Dianne
Tree-hugger? MMMM, never been called that before, but glad to be so called.

Weaver of Grass
Indeed, and not just history: there is literally a whole world inside most trees. Thanks for the remarks.

enchantedoak
Thank you, good to know you liked it.

Kass
It was the way a line of trees looked like books that stated the poem off.

Shadow
Correct. It was meant to be far more than just trees.

lakeviewer
Thank you, the comment is much appreciated.

Tommaso
London plane is a variety of plane tree that has become especially adapted to cities. It used to thrive with coatings of soot - not necessary now, since the clean air acts, b ut the variety con tinues to live on in towns anyway. I take your point, but we regularly speak of oaks and sycamores etc, meaning the trees.

Carl
Thank you!

Karen
That is a very generous response. Many thanks for it.

Harlequin
The border that the trees guarded - possib ly clearer in my first draft than in the final one - was that between the road and the wood.

Derrick
For me, the third stanza has both the best bits (probably) and the clunkiest, so your comment was particularly welcome.

Linda said...

I had never heard of a London Plane Tree. I have been back to read this for the third time and now, with the added information, the poem makes so much sense! =D I love your poem!
This poem reminded me of the locked vaults of the library where the ancient books are stored. Access is usually denied, but those books hold a plethora of information and probably organisms that eat their pages. They are books made from trees.
I am encouraged to treasure the faltering trees trying to grow through the sidewalk of the downtown core. Their spreading root system cannot absorb enough water through the cement to keep the tree healthy, so they are stunted, but they are fighting for survival like we are and as your poem points out, they need to be respected and cared for.
"The spiders spin it in their webs;
you hear it in the groans
and creaks, the timbre of each voice. It speaks
a thousand languages, and scribes the wood
with arcane signs like charged Rosetta Stones."
The cadence has its own energy! The associations are inspiring!

Tabor said...

Yes, this is one of my favorites...maybe because I love trees so, but also because you have created the tight analogy. My trees creak and groan and seems to speak a thousand languages.

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

David, thank you for your note, it has reminded me that I actually call most of trees in English without "tree", plane-trees has been one of the few exceptions.
I have posted a poem on that and on your post.

Crafty Green Poet said...

indeed, if only we could listen to the trees, we could learn so much...

Madame DeFarge said...

I love the last verse in particular. Just fabulous.

Dave King said...

Linda
I love your simile of the trees and locked vaults. That says pretty much what I was trying to say. Also the picture of the root system struggling with the town environment. Superb. Thanks.

Tabor
I heard a sound track once that a scientist had made of a tree. Not the wind in the b ranches, that sort of thing, but of sounds coming from the actual trunk. There were creaks and groans of growth and the sounds of living creatures burrowing, eating, moving. Fantastic.

Tommaso
Shall b e ov er anon to see. Thanks.

Crafty Green Poet
Yup - see my reply to Tabor.

Madame DeFarge
Thanks for that. Always interesting to get these comparisons.

Rebecca said...

I will have to come back and re-read this when it isn't after midnight. Books and trees. I like your bit about cut and uncut leaves, like cut pages (and I always like it when I find uncut pages - as if I'm the first person to ever see that page).
People are often referred to as books, but never really trees, which is strange as we're more like trees than books, as all good folk tales know. I once read a book where the library of the story contained scrolls, that hung in baskets from different tree-like stacks, each one relating to a different subject, with the subject diversifying as the branches split, and the scrolls were the leaves. It was a children's book, but I liked that idea.

Dave King said...

Rebecca
Good point: yes, we are more like trees than books, I think. Maybe, though, trees are closer to books than are we. Interesting set of comments. Thanks.

Tumblewords: said...

A taproot to the center. Wonderfully thoughtful, gently imaged. Fine work!