The Poets

August 22, 2010

What Will the Fir-Tree Say*

Beauty provokes thieves sooner than gold.


We spoke yesterday at the pool, briefly, on how urban expansion impinges upon the land that animals know as home. We seem shocked that a red tail fox should be roaming our neighborhoods, or think it odd that there would be rabbits deep in the heart of a city.

And then we have the reality of intermittent animal attacks, and condemn, not our annexation of their natural territories, but their dangerous presence our communities. We usually kill the more dangerous of these, or throw them into captivity; some of the more docile of the creatures, like prairie dog, we simple relocate (which, we say, is usually better than the alternative- but for who I ask).

Expansionism- if ever there were a term more frightening to nature it would undoubtedly be this one. We pillage her recourses like gluttons; exploit her loveliness like careless lovers; and draw from her bosom some of the most lethal, some of the most deadliest uses we have ever known (and we fear the fox).

Later that night I happened to read, for the first time, a poem written by Emily Dickinson entitled, Who Robbed the Woods. It reminded me, though it referred to no animal, of that poolside conversation. As I read it I derived deeper meanings, but its more literal (or closely literal) aspect penetrated my heart deeply: here we have this gorgeous plant (these “woods”) and yet, rapaciously and without consideration, we exploit it; we often not only take this planet’s loveliness for granted, we misuse and destroy her natural beauty to achieve purely anthropocentric ends (and this with little regard).

Of course we need to utilize her resources to sustain life, but don’t we often take this a little too much to the extreme? Is it utterly necessary to hack down entire forests to make our lives easier? Is there not moderation? Must we achieve comfort at the expense of nature and her beauty? Must we take all this wonderment around us for granted?

Then again, have we not all done the same?

Who Robbed the Woods

Who robbed the woods,
The trusting woods?
The unsuspecting trees
Brought out their burrs and mosses
His fantasy to please.
He scanned their trinkets, curious,
He grasped, he bore away.
What will the solemn hemlock,
What will the fir-tree say?

*Painting by Randy Richmond


John W. May said...

Side Note:

Here’s one that has always baffled me, one I’m sure the ladies won’t be quick to agree with: must we really pluck a flower from the ground, deprive it of the vital source that sustains the beauty of it we see, in order to hand it to another as an expression of sympathy or love?

Wouldn’t the expression of sympathy or love persist or be just as valid- or more- if, on a hypothetical, I brought you to the rose bush and dedicated one of its flowers to you? As I see it, not only does the expression remain, but so does the flower and the beauty it exemplifies. Everyone wins.


This reminds me of a Thoreau poem:

Sic Vita

I am a parcel of vain strivings tied
By a chance bond together,
Dangling this way and that, their links
Were made so loose and wide,
For milder weather.

A bunch of violets without their roots,
And sorrel intermixed,
Encircled by a wisp of straw
Once coiled about their shoots,
The law
By which I'm fixed.

A nosegay which Time clutched from out
Those fair Elysian fields,
With weeds and broken stems, in haste,
Doth make the rabble rout
That waste
The day he yields.

And here I bloom for a short hour unseen,
Drinking my juices up,
With no root in the land
To keep my branches green,
But stand
In a bare cup.

Some tender buds were left upon my stem
In mimicry of life,
But ah! the children will not know,
Till time has withered them,
The woe
With which they're rife.

But now I see I was not plucked for naught,
And after in life's vase
Of glass set while I might survive,
But by a kind hand brought
To a strange place.

That stock thus thinned will soon redeem its hours,
And by another year,
Such as God knows, with freer air,
More fruits and fairer flowers
Will bear,
While I droop here.


And Again, another Dickinson Poem:

South Winds Jostle Them

South winds jostle them,
Bumblebees come,
Hover, hesitate,
Drink, and are gone.

Butterflies pause
On their passage Cashmere;
I, softly plucking,
Present them here!

Nancy said...

I love your heart in this post, John. Well done and thank you!

cheryl said...


I couldn't agree more on both counts.

Here's one 'lady's' opinion on the matter: I rarely pick flowers, tree branches ect, just to pick them. But I will go out and gather up as many as I can, before grass cutting day (we have so many beautiful wild flowers that grow in our yard, I hate that they all get mowed down). What I like to do is scavenge(sp?) for leaves that have already fallen, insects that have already died, ect. I must be weird, if I can look at a bug and contemplate the whole spectrum of life and death, but I do. I think it's because they're dead or dying that I like to collect them. I think a part of me just wants to preserve their beauty, to give them a voice that says, 'We were here. We were alive. We matter'.

John W. May said...

Wow Cheryl, that was beautiful and beautifully put. My breath was literally taken away:

'We were here. We were alive. We matter'.

I definitely don't think these activities to be weird or strange or a waste of time; on the contrary, they show an extremely sensitive disposition, a sensitivity to nature and the nature of things that's sadly seldom seen.

I'm happy to know you. You're pretty cool (and a great writer).

daij said...

i loved that wm shakespeare quote, and this particular entry

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