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Carlos collecting Quercus ×alentejana (Q. faginea × Q. pyrenaica) in northeastern Portugal for his PhD thesis © Carlos Vila-Viçosa
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Plant Focus

Quercus crassipes acorns with inrolled cupule margin
One of the more well-known Mexican oaks in cultivation.

"Oak Time" by W.S. Merwin

Continuing our series of posts of poems that feature oaks: a meditation on the passing of time measured by the lives of ancient oaks.

If you would like to propose a poem for inclusion in this series, please click here.


Oak Time

Storms in absence like the ages before I was anywhere
     and out in the shred of forest through the seasons
a few oaks have fallen towering ancients elders
     the last of elders standing there while the wars drained away
and slow-dancing with the ice when time had not discovered them
     in a scrap of what had been their seamless fabric these late ones
are lying shrouded already in eglantine and brambles
     bird-cherry nettles and the tangled ivy
that prophesies disappearance and had already
     crept into the shadows they made when they held up their lives
and the nightingales sang here even in the daytime
     and cowbells echoed through the long twilight of summer
the ivy knew the way oh the knowing ivy
     that was never wrong how few now the birds seem to be
no animals are led out any longer from the barns
     after the milking to spend the night pastured here
they are all gone from the village Edouard is gone
     who walked out before them to the end of his days
keeping an eye on the walnuts still green along the road
     when the owl was safe in these oaks and in the night
I could hear the fox that would bark here bark and be gone 


Source: Poetry (October 1993)



W.S. Merwin (September 30, 1927 – March 15, 2019) was an award-winning poet and the 17th United States Poet Laureate (2010–2011). A practicing Buddhist as well as a proponent of deep ecology, Merwin lived since the late 1970s on an old pineapple plantation in Hawaii which he painstakingly restored to its original rainforest state. According to poet Edward Hirsch, Merwin was “a rare spiritual presence in American life and letters (the Thoreau of our era).”