A Tree Telling of Orpheus
by Denise Levertov
Excerpt as performed by Angela Sarakan at Fire He Sang opening reception November 13, 2013
White dawn. Stillness.
When the rippling began
I took it for a sea-wind, coming to our valley with rumors
of salt, of treeless horizons. but the white fog
didn't stir; the leaves of my brothers remained outstretched,
Yet the rippling drew nearer — and then
my own outermost branches began to tingle, almost as if
fire had been lit below them, too close, and their twig-tips
were drying and curling.
Yet I was not afraid, only
I was the first to see him, for I grew
out on the pasture slope, beyond the forest.
He was a man, it seemed...
from his voice..
came the ripple.
But it was now no longer a ripple ...
it was a wave that bathed me
as if rain
rose from below and around me
instead of falling.
And what I felt was no longer a dry tingling:
I seemed to be singing as he sang, I seemed to know
what the lark knows; all my sap
was mounting towards the sun that by now
had risen, the mist was rising, the grass
was drying, yet my roots felt music moisten them
deep under earth...
Then as he sang
it was no longer sounds only that made the music:
he spoke, and as no tree listens I listened, and language
came into my roots
out of the earth,
into my bark
out of the air,
into the pores of my greenest shoots
gently as dew
and there was no word he sang but I knew its meaning.
He told of journeys,
of where sun and moon go while we stand in dark,
of an earth-journey he dreamed he would take some day
deeper than roots…
He told of the dreams of man, wars, passions, griefs,
and I, a tree, understood words...
Fire he sang,
that trees fear, and I, a tree, rejoiced in its flames.
New buds broke forth from me though it was full summer.
As though his lyre...
were both frost and fire, its chord flamed
up to the crown of me.
I was seed again.
I was fern in the swamp.
I was coal.
It was then,
when in the blaze of his power that
reached me and changed me
I thought I should fall my length,
that the singer began
to leave me. …
And I in terror
but not in doubt of
what I must do
in anguish, in haste,
wrenched from the earth root after root,
the soil heaving and cracking, the moss tearing asunder --
and behind me the others: my brothers
forgotten since dawn. In the forest
they too had heard,
and were pulling their roots in pain
out of a thousand year's layers of dead leaves,
rolling the rocks away,
stumbling over our own roots,
rustling our leaves
we moved, we followed.
All day we followed, up hill and down.
We learned to dance...
and words he said
taught us to leap and to wind in and out
around one another in figures the lyre's measure designed.
In the last light of that day his song became
He stilled our longing.
He sang our sun-dried roots back into earth,
watered them: all-night rain of music so quiet
we could almost
not hear it in the
By dawn he was gone.
We have stood here since,
in our new life...
Perhaps he will not return.
But what we have lived
comes back to us.
We see more.
We feel, as our rings increase,
something that lifts our branches, that stretches our furthest
The wind, the birds,
do not sound poorer but clearer,
recalling our agony, and the way we danced...
~ Denise Levertov
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