A Tree Telling of Orpheus
When the rippling began
I took it for sea-wind, coming to our valley with rumors of salt, of treeless horizons.
But the white fog
didn't stir; the leaves of my brothers remained outstretched, unmoving.
Yet the rippling drew nearer – and then my own outermost branches began to tingle, almost as if
fire had been lit below them, too close, and their twig-tips were drying and curling.
Yet I was not afraid, only deeply alert.
I was the first to see him, for I grew out on the
pasture slope, beyond the forest.
He was a man, it seemed: the two moving stems, the short trunk, the two arm-branches, flexible, each with five leafless twigs at their ends,
and the head that's crowned by brown or golden grass,
bearing a face not like the beaked face of a bird,
more like a flower's.
He carried a burden made of some cut branch bent while it was green, strands of a vine tight-stretched across it.
From this, when he touched it, and from his voice
which unlike the wind's voice had no need of our
leaves and branches to complete its sound,
came the ripple.
But it was now no longer a ripple (he had come near and
stopped in my first shadow) it was a wave that bathed me as if rain rose from below and around me instead of falling.
And what I felt was no longer a dry tingling:
I seemed to be singing as he sang, I seemed to know
what the lark knows; all my sap was mounting towards the sun that by now had risen, the mist was rising, the grass was drying, yet my roots felt music moisten them
deep under earth.
He came still closer, leaned on my trunk:
the bark thrilled like a leaf still-folded.
Music! There was no twig of me not trembling with joy and fear.
Then as he sang it was no longer sounds only that made the music:
he spoke, and as no tree listens I listened, and language
came into my roots out of the earth, into my bark
out of the air, into the pores of my greenest shoots
gently as dew and there was no word he sang but I knew its meaning.
He told me of journeys, of where sun and moon go while we stand in dark, of an earth-journey he dreamed he would take some day deeper than roots .
He told of the dreams of man, wars, passions, griefs,
and I, a tree, understood words – ah, it seemed
my thick bark would split like a sapling's that grew too fast in the spring when a late frost wounds it.
Fire he sang, that trees fear, and I, a tree, rejoiced in its flames.
New buds broke forth from me though it was full summer.
As though his lyre (now I knew its name) were both frost and fire, its chords flamed up to the crown of me.
by Denise Levertov
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