Monday, December 04, 2006

Learning the Trees - Howard Nemerov

Before you can learn the trees, you have to learn

The language of the trees. That's done indoors,

Out of a book, which now you think of it

Is one of the transformations of a tree.

The words themselves are a delight to learn,

You might be in a foreign land of terms

Like samara, capsule, drupe, legume and pome,

Where bark is papery, plated, warty or smooth.

photo by: Roi Kuper Citrus 1999-2001

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 now

Go forth to the forests and the shady streets

To see how the chaos of experience

Answers to catalogue and category.

Confusedly. The leaves of a single tree

May differ among themselves more than they do

From other species, so you have to find,

All blandly says the book, "an average leaf."

photo by: Roi Kuper Citrus 1999-2001

Example, the catalpa in the book

Sprays out its leaves in whorls of three

Around the stem; the one in front of you

But rarely does, or somewhat, or almost;

Maybe it's not catalpa? Dreadful doubt.

It may be weeks before you see an elm

Fanlike in form, a spruce that pyramids,

A sweetgum spiring up in steeple shape.

Still, pedetemtim as Lucretious says,

Little by little, you do start to learn;

And learn as well, maybe, what language does

And how it does it, cutting across the world

Not always at the joints, competing with

Experience while cooperating with

Experience, and keeping an obstinate

Intransigence, uncanny, of its own.

Think finally about the secret will

Pretending obedience to Nature, but

Invidiously distinguishing everywhere,

Dividing up the world to conquer it.

And think also how funny knowledge is:

You may succeed in learning many trees

And calling off their names as you go by,

But their comprehensive silence stays the same.

Photo by: Roi Kuper Citrus 1999-2001

via wood_s_lot