from The Laurel Tree

By Louis Simpson 1923–2012 Louis Simpson
In the clear light that confuses everything   
Only you, dark laurel,   
Shadow my house,

Lifting your arms in the anguish   
Of nature at the stake.
And at night, quivering with tears,

You are like the tree called Tasso’s.   
Crippled, and hooped with iron,   
It stands on Peter’s hill.

When the lovers prop their bicycles   
And sit on the high benches   
That look across to eternity,

That tree makes their own torsion
Seem natural. And so, they’re comforted.


2
One of the local philosophers ...   
He says, “In California
We have the old anarchist tradition.”

What can he mean? Is there an anarchist tradition?   
And why would an anarchist want one?   
O California,

Is there a tree without opinions?   
Come, let me clasp you!   
Let me feel the idea breathing.

I too cry O for a life of sensations   
Rather than thoughts—
“The sayling Pine, the Cedar proud and tall.”

Like the girls in our neighborhood,   
They’re beautiful and silent.


3
As I was digging in the back yard   
I thought of a man in China.
A lifetime, it seemed, we gazed at each other.

I could see and hear his heartbeats   
Like a spade hurling clods.
He pointed behind him, and I saw

That the hills were covered with armed men,   
And they were all on the other side   
Of the life that I held dear.

He said, “We are as various   
As the twigs of a tree,
But now the tree moves as one man.

It walks. And the earth trembles   
When a race of slaves is leaving.”


4
I said, “Yet, all these people   
Will fall down as one man
When the entrails of a bomb are breathing.

When we came down from Chosin   
Carrying the guns in dainty snow-wear   
And all the dead we had to,

It was a time of forgetfulness,   
Like a plucked string.   
It was a river of darkness.

Was it not so on your side, when you came   
To the sea that was covered with ships?   
Let us speak to each other,

Let the word rise, making dark strokes in the air.   
That bird flies over the heads of the armed men.”


5
One part of the tree grows outward.   
The other I saw when, with a light,
I explored the cellar—shattering roots.

They had broken through the wall,
As though there were something in my rubbish   
That life would have at last.

I must be patient with shapes
Of automobile fenders and ketchup bottles.   
These things are the beginning

Of things not visible to the naked eye.   
It was so in the time of Tobit—
The dish glowed when the angel held it.

It is so that spiritual messengers   
Deliver their meaning.

Louis Simpson, “The Laurel Tree” from Collected Poems (Saint Paul, Minn.: Paragon House, 1988). Copyright © 1988 by Louis Simpson. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: Collected Poems (Paragon House, 1988)

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Poet Louis Simpson 1923–2012

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects War & Conflict, History & Politics, Love, Trees & Flowers, Relationships, Nature, Social Commentaries, Heartache & Loss

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Louis  Simpson

Biography

Poet, editor, translator, and critic Louis Simpson was born in 1923, in Jamaica, to Scottish and Russian parents. A contemporary of Confessional poets like Robert Lowell, John Berryman, and Sylvia Plath, Simpson’s early work followed a familiar arc. In the New York Times Book Review, critic David Orr noted its highlights: “Simpson has followed a path lined with signposts sunk so deep in our nation's poetic terra firma that . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT War & Conflict, History & Politics, Love, Trees & Flowers, Relationships, Nature, Social Commentaries, Heartache & Loss

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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