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Looking up at trees at dusk from the ground.

An Ode To The Trees (By The Great Carol Ann Duffy)


In the poem ‘Forest,’ the Scottish writer pays homage to one of nature’s most powerful presences...

Trees speak without speaking. To be surrounded by these “serious and patient saints,” as Carol Ann Duffy recognized them, provokes the sentiments —sometimes nearly unnoticed— that bring people nearer to eternity and, therefore, closer to themselves. Recently, the poet laureate dedicated a work to these radiant beings, and in the BBC video, she recites to the trees (while surrounded by them) a poem titled simply, Forest.

Writers and trees maintain a unique relationship. Of these noble inhabitants of our world, Hermann Hesse wrote that when we learn to listen to them, the brevity and the speed of our thoughts acquires an unprecedented joy. On the other hand, Walt Whitman also knew how to celebrate them in words. At 54 years old and in full recovery from a stroke, he developed a great taste for escaping alone to nature and wrote of them as beings “so innocent and harmless yet so savage” that they are capable of embodying the act of being and, unlike people, they have no intention of seeming; the perfect examples of authenticity.

For Duffy, trees are made up of empathy which, through this sacred quality, can silently speak to people of time and will thus remind them of their humanity…


In fact, the trees are murmuring under your feet,

a buried empathy; you tread it.

                                                 High over your head,

the canopy sieves light; a conversation

you lip-read. The forest

                                      keeps different time;

slow hours as long as your life,

so you feel human.

So you feel more human; persuaded what you are

by wordless breath of wood, reason in resin.

You might name them-

                                    oak, ash, holly, beech, elm-

but the giants are silence alive, superior,

and now you are all instinct;

swinging the small lamp of your heart

as you venture their world:

the green, shadowy, garlic air

                                                your ancestors breathed.

Ah, you thought love human

till you lost yourself in the forest,

but it is more strange.

                                   These grave and patient saints

who pray and pray

and suffer your little embrace.


Image: Public domain

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