Three on Trees by Merwin for Earth Day 2021 and a Quote by Terry Tempest Williams, A Cry Out For Us To Be Attached to Our World, Its Nouns!

American poet W.S. Merwin among his palm trees on Maui


On the last day of the world
I would want to plant a tree

what for
not for the fruit

the tree that bears the fruit
is not the one that was planted

I want the tree that stands
in the earth for the first time

with the sun already
going down

and the water
touching its roots

in the earth full of the dead
and the clouds passing

one by one
over its leaves

W.S. Merwin (1927 – 2019), from The Rain in the Trees. Alfred A. Knopf, 1988

To celebrate Earth Day 2021 how better than with three poems by exceptional American poet W.S. Merwin who died two years ago last month.  Not only is it appropriate to feature Merwin because of these poems but especially considering how he restored 19 acres of ruined land on the north coast of Maui, deforested and part of a former pineapple plantation, into a lush garden/forest of more than 800 species of palm trees. A life’s work with his wife Paula over more than forty years.  Yes, a man who loved this earth with his body, his, mind, his hands. A perfect icon to feature on this Earth Day when so many parts of the world are going the other way – from garden/forest to disturbed if not ruined land.

What an elegiac tone in this well-known poem of Merwin’s featured above. But also the hope in this man, the stubborn hope of a man who planted thousands of trees.  We know through recent research in the past years how interconnected and remarkable trees are. How appropriate on the earth’s last day to plant one. A living gravestone.  Yes!

This next poem touches me personally. Years ago my daughter Libby and I began to kiss trees. Hold them on our walks. I do this still. I did it today with a large Douglas Fir on a trail near where I live.  I don’t imagine like Merwin does of being carried in their branches but I sure marvel at the life I am holding when I hold a tree. And I hold a hope, call me crazy, that somehow the tree will know it is being held.


I am looking at trees
they may be one of the things I will miss
most from the earth
though many of the ones I have seen
already I cannot remember
and though I seldom embrace the ones I see
and have never been able to speak
with one
I listen to them tenderly
their names have never touched them
they have stood round my sleep
and when it was forbidden to climb them
they have carried me in their branches

W.S. Merwin from The Compass Flower, MacMillan, 1977

The special limited edition copy of W.S.-Merwin’s Poem, Trees,

And the despair in this next poem. A despair  of a man knowing his parents did not know the names of trees where he was born. Who like so many of us today are walled up in our houses, fixated on our computers and phones and how many know the names of trees if there are any where they live? To know the names of things is to grieve the things when they die as so much is dying on this planet. Is to then help stop the relentless killing onslaught.





Native Trees

Neither my father nor my mother knew
the names of the trees
where I was born
what is that
I asked and my
father and mother did not
hear they did not look where I pointed
surfaces of furniture held
the attention of their fingers
and across the room they could watch
walls they had forgotten
where there were no questions
no voices and no shade

Were there trees
where they were children
where I had not been
I asked
were there trees in those places
where my father and my mother were born
and in that time did
my father and my mother see them
and when they said yes it meant
they did not remember
What were they I asked what were they
but both my father and my mother
said they never knew

W. S. Merwin, from The Rain in the Trees, Alfred A. Knopf, 1988

This following quote by the American writer and environmentalist Terry Tempest Williams is such a cry against not knowing the names of things. Not knowing the names of trees. A quote, I can only imagine W.S. Merwin embracing!

If I choose not to become attached to nouns – a person, place or thing – then when I refuse a intimate’s love or hoard my spirit, when a known landscape is bought, sold and developed, chained or grazed to stubble, or a hawk is shot and hung by its feet on a barbed wire fence, my heart cannot be broken because I never risked giving it away.

But what kind of impoverishment is this to withhold emotion, restrain our passionate nature in the face of a generous life just to appease our fears? A man or woman whose mind reins in the heart when the body sings desperately for connection can only expect more isolation and greater ecological disease. Our lack of intimacy with each other is in direct proportion to our lack of intimacy with the land. We have taken our love inside and abandoned the world.”

Winter Solstice At The Moab Slab – Terry Tempest Williams

Post a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *