“I think that I shall never see
a poem lovely as a tree.” Joyce Kilmer
In spite of its simplicity, I think Kilmer’s famous poem holds a nuanced double-entendre. In straightforward fashion, the poet presents an analogy of poems and trees, where poems, as a human achievement, pale in comparison to the magnificence of trees, those multifarious perennials which so naturally dwell among us. As Kilmer affirms, trees are a blessed gift of the divine imagination.
Yet, through a wider lens, the author’s opening metaphor may branch out even further, leading us to wonder about trees and their true engagement with language itself.
Surely, we understand that trees, as well as any and all varieties of creation, can “communicate,” i.e., have a message that the beholder is able to perceive. The same is true for poems.
The “second hearing,” if you will, points to language itself. More than a basic capacity to communicate (in a figurative sense), even beyond the metaphoric use of “poem,” might there be a hidden door that, when opened, reveals the fuller truth? To wit, Trees speak!
People who know me will acknowledge my love of trees, my admiration, even devotion, as well as my friendship with trees. And, with a quizzical smile on their faces, some will affirm, “Yes, he even talks to trees!” But few human companions have any understanding of what I mean when I talk about the complex communication of trees and my true, lived experience, which is now my firm belief, in the language of trees.
Yes, trees talk. And I listen. So much of my spiritual journey has been learning to open up and focus my human and cosmic senses as I seek to interpret what I have received and heard, indeed, what I have felt and absorbed, even what I have ingested, in the amazing conversations in which trees have welcomed my participation.
(Photo: UNM campus, gmc, 2017)