Two locust trees

To broaden our discussion of parts of speech, their places and powers, we read two versions of a poem by William Carlos Williams, “The Locust Tree in Flower.” One goes this way.

Among
the leaves
bright

green
of wrist-thick
tree

and old
stiff broken
branch

ferncool
swaying
loosely strung —

come May
again
white blossom

clusters
hide
to spill

their sweets
almost
unnoticed

down
and quickly
fall

A very pretty poem about a pretty old tree. A lovely coined word, “ferncool,” whose extravagance only starts to look off in the light of the renunciations of the later version. Which goes this way.

Among
of
green

stiff
old
bright

broken
branch
come

white
sweet
May

again

This poem never fails to stun me. Ten Thirteen words on ten thirteen lines. (Oops. One line short of a sonnet.) All but three are monosyllables. The thing’s almost entirely empty. And out of that great narrow strait the poem blossoms endlessly.

And not a metaphor to be found here. All the power comes from metonymic resonance and a powerful torque applied to syntax.

For instance the strange construction

Among
of
green

How can we be both among and of? Among means in the midst of but distinct from. Of means belonging to and identified with.

Are we thrown to a green we remain apart from? Or do we belong to a green we can’t get out of? Spring is the swell and swirl of the new it is and does. And so the poem dizzies, endizzes, lucky us.

Master Dogen said to his monks:

When you paint spring, don’t paint willows, plums, peaches, or apricots — just paint spring. Painting willows, plums, peaches, or apricots is painting willows, plums, peaches, or apricots. It’s not yet painting spring.

The longer poem paints a pretty picture of a locust tree. The shorter invites us to be spring in the tree.

These thoughts, by the way, formed in collaboration with my students, who saw deep and well into this one.


POSTSCRIPT. Want a master class in revision? Track how the first version becomes the second. What words go, what words stay, how the words that stay drift into new places. The depth of the letting go here is astonishing. Nothing less than total.


Black Locust

Advertisements

Published by

headComposter

I write draw teach blog in and from the Pacific Northwest of America.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s