Poetry Monday: Trees

I’m not sure how this poem is not yet included in my blog, given that it has now appeared in several other places on the internet. Time to put that right.

The poem grew from a remark made by Malcolm Guite on one of his retreat days at Otley hall; I forget the context, but “Trees are a way of thinking” stuck in my mind and became the first line of a poem.

The poem was then found on Facebook by Chris Upton, who set it to music, and I was lucky enough to attend a concert at which it was performed by Seraphim, an excellent all-female ensemble choir. (You can hear it performed here and access the sheet music from this page)

It gained another claim to fame earlier this year when I sent a copy to Dame Judi Dench after watching her beautiful documentary My Passion for Trees. She sent a lovely thank you note in reply, and I’d like to think that she read it (preferably out loud in that famous voice!) and has tucked the sheet music away somewhere.

Here is the poem:

Trees are a way of thinking, for every tree is given
an appetite for earth with an ambition to reach heaven,
a fingerprinted bark to wrap up memories in rings
of a hundred winters fading, followed by a hundred springs.

Trees are a way of praying, for every tree’s a church:
the cathedral of the willow and the steeple of the birch,
the summoning of seasons in the sacrifice of leaves
and stained-glass window winter skies through criss-cross branching eaves.

Trees are a way of hearing, for those with ears to hear,
about the hope locked into seeds, the blessing of the year.
Happy is nature’s poet when he has an eye that sees
for parables of roots and fruits, you can rely on trees.

What I’m Up to Wednesday: Creatively Retreating

There’s something about the summer time that makes me want to study.  Apparently the sunshine makes most people want to lie by the sea and do nothing, but I have a sort of Pavlov’s dog reaction after so many years of summer meaning revision and exam time.

It’s always good to set aside a little time for what in teaching used to be called ‘continuing professional development’, so I’ve been along to a few workshops recently.  The first was a poetry workshop led by Gregory Warren Wilson.  I couldn’t believe it when I saw the poster: I had to run to my bookshelf to make sure that I’d recognised the name, because this was a poet who read my poems nearly twenty years ago when they were mostly teenage drivel, annotated them, and met up with me and my cello teacher in a little cafe in Sevenoaks to go through them one by one.  IMG_1597

His workshop, on poetry and music, was wonderful.  In time-limited tasks, we played with rhythm and its effect of language.  My favourite exercise was to ‘translate’ a poem from a language nobody in the group knew, going only by the rhythm, line breaks and sound of the words to discern meaning.

Of course, I had to catch him afterwards to thank him profusely for taking me seriously in 1999.  He didn’t remember doing it, but was glad he had, because, he said, “Someone did the same for me before my voice had formed, when my poetry didn’t deserve to be seen.”  It struck a chord, reminding me of that part of the communion service, ‘When we were still far off, you met us in your son…’ A sort of poet-to-poet version of grace.

Next, I returned to Otley Hall, where I try not to miss anything Malcolm Guite ever does, and listened to him talk about Tennyson.  The retreat day took place, as he pointed out, in the garden of a ‘moated grange’ and surrounded by the mournful cries of peacocks.  It’s a wonderful place if you ever get the chance to go.  I learned that I didn’t know nearly enough Tennyson.

Finally, this weekend, I shall be at Scargill House on my favourite retreat of all, the ACW* writers’ weekend.  I’ll have to write about that one once it’s actually happened.  I wonder whether I will have got my summer learning urge out of my system by then?