|early July daylilies|
Photo by J. Harrington
Learning the Trees
Before you can learn the trees, you have to learnThe language of the trees. That’s done indoors,Out of a book, which now you think of itIs one of the transformations of a tree.The words themselves are a delight to learn,You might be in a foreign land of termsLike samara, capsule, drupe, legume and pome,Where bark is papery, plated, warty or smooth.But best of all are the words that shape the leaves—Orbicular, cordate, cleft and reniform—And their venation—palmate and parallel—And tips—acute, truncate, auriculate.Sufficiently provided, you may nowGo forth to the forests and the shady streetsTo see how the chaos of experienceAnswers to catalogue and category.Confusedly. The leaves of a single treeMay differ among themselves more than they doFrom other species, so you have to find,All blandly says the book, “an average leaf.”Example, the catalpa in the bookSprays out its leaves in whorls of threeAround the stem; the one in front of youBut rarely does, or somewhat, or almost;Maybe it’s not catalpa? Dreadful doubt.It may be weeks before you see an elmFanlike in form, a spruce that pyramids,A sweetgum spiring up in steeple shape.Still, pedetemtim as Lucretius says,Little by little, you do start to learn;And learn as well, maybe, what language doesAnd how it does it, cutting across the worldNot always at the joints, competing withExperience while cooperating withExperience, and keeping an obstinateIntransigence, uncanny, of its own.Think finally about the secret willPretending obedience to Nature, butInvidiously distinguishing everywhere,Dividing up the world to conquer it,And think also how funny knowledge is:You may succeed in learning many treesAnd calling off their names as you go by,But their comprehensive silence stays the same.
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Please be kind to each other while you can.