Sunday, May 19, 2013

"I Stood Still And Was A Tree Amid The Wood"

In "The Trees," Philip Larkin writes:  "The trees are coming into leaf/Like something almost being said."  The lines bring to mind two lines from Wallace Stevens's "The Motive for Metaphor":  ". . . you were happy in spring,/With the half colors of quarter-things."

As spring progresses, the leaves of the trees move through innumerable shades of green.  On a sunny day, the larger leaves are diaphanous, with all the variations of green taking on a tinge of sun-shot yellow.  If it is breezy, their green shadows sway and flutter against each other, flowing like a stream.

Stephen McKenna, "An English Oak Tree" (1981)

                        The Tree

I stood still and was a tree amid the wood,
Knowing the truth of things unseen before;
Of Daphne and the laurel bow
And that god-feasting couple old
That grew elm-oak amid the wold.
'Twas not until the gods had been
Kindly entreated, and been brought within
Unto the hearth of their heart's home
That they might do this wonder thing;
Nathless I have been a tree amid the wood
And many a new thing understood
That was rank folly to my head before.

Ezra Pound, A Lume Spento (1908).

In Ovid's Metamorphoses, Daphne (line 3) is transformed into a laurel tree as she is pursued by Apollo.  The "god-feasting couple old" (line 4) refers to the story of Baucis and Philemon in Metamorphoses.  The couple provided a meal to Zeus and Hermes when no one else in their village would do so. As a reward, Zeus spared their lives when he destroyed the village and its inhospitable residents.  He also granted their wish that, should one of them die, the other would die at the same time.  Much later, as they died of old age, they embraced, and as they did so they were transformed into intertwining trees:  an oak and a lime.  Pound uses "elm-oak" (line 5).

Stephen McKenna, "Foliage" (1983)


90 ojime said...

This post made me think of Stevens' Anecdote of the Jar. It's either really obvious why--or not... I'm still trying to parse it out, maybe looking at the same thing through a one-way mirror?

Given the wonderful art you include in your posts, I think you might like these paintings:

Thanks for what you do. Though I can't visit often I find your blog a steady, calm island.

Stephen Pentz said...

90 ojime: thank you very much for visiting and for your thoughts. The connection that you suggest with "Anecdote of the Jar" is an interesting one.

Thanks again.