“If there are no more forests, there will be no more poets.”
—Jonathan Bate on Robert Harrison’s FORESTS
Yes, of course, but no.
The poets must live deep
In the dark wood, where fear goes on four legs,
Never bares its teeth and almost smiles,
Where temptation lurks behind each oak
Slightly showing a bit of herself, always
A hairy something from some part of her soft,
Warm body, that needs caressing, and parting,
And the poet limps about, shaded,
Never going forward for he knows he does not know
Anything of direction, progress. Born
To be lost, he likes veins in fallen leaves,
As mysterious to him as what he sees
Every day in his own palm, telling him nothing,
Delights in the parasitic vines throttling
Tree trunks, which also go nowhere, and loves
The deadfall that often trips him, stiff
Reminders of how hard it is to keep a rhythm
An allegorical place, the forest
Spreads correspondences, holy and green.
Adorno said: No poetry after Auschwitz.
There was. The poems looked like survivors, Bareboned, hollow-eyed, starved, trembling
At the fact they were alive and speaking words
In which the silence of the unspeakable echoed.
The greedy men who clear-cut and bulldoze forests,
Men who cannot see beyond their fingernails,
Work at a genocide like Hitler’s and Himmler’s,
Cannot see they are killing their children’s
Childrens’ future. The saw and saw for profit,
And will and will.
But after everything is stumps
Slashed down and burnt out, wilderness made
A flatland, ready for asphalt, even on hills,
Breathing nearly impossible for lack of leaves,
A few poets will rise up on their skinny elbows,
peer with haggard eyes at that bald, treeless
Space in front of them, will speak with some style
And good cadences resounding words, limping About in the dark woods of themselves, convinced
Words will stand, trees in a lost forest.
Source: Karl Patten, TOUCH, pp. 67-68.
COMMENT by the author
This poem, rather unusually, came directly out of the epigraph. That is an astounding sentence and is supported by Harrison’s FORESTS, a book I can recommend heartily. And the somewhat strange title bounces directly from the epigraph, for, much as I was/am impressed by Harrison’s book, I could not give up the lack of poetry in our future.
In order to find a way of disagreeing with (or partially disagreeing) Bate/Harrison, I went to Canto 1 of Dante’s DIVINE COMEDY for the first six or so lines. And Dante will, in minuscule and quiet ways, underlie most of the poem. None of this should be notice by the reader; I am saying that the Commedia was essential for me in writing the poem.
The second full paragraph allows me to say through the imagery of a wood what I believe to be true of poets in general. The the two lines before the break open out, stealing from Baudelaire (and perhaps Emerson), in order to say what the forest gives us.
Next, I allude to Adorno’s famous remark concerning Auschwitz, which I immediately disavow, for I am thinking of the poets of Eastern Europe, who suffered through Nazism and came forward with a stripped, yet powerful, poetry. And that naturally led me to Hitler and Himmler, whom I liken to today’s corporate looters and their unceasing greed.
Finally, I return to the poets who have survived this raid on our planet (a different kind of genocide) and show them still speaking, believers in the permanence of words, bringing the forests of themselves into being, the place they started from.