The Speaking Tree

By Muriel Rukeyser 1913–1980 Muriel Rukeyser

     for Robert Payne

Great Alexander sailing was from his true course turned
By a young wind from a cloud in Asia moving
Like a most recognizable most silvery woman;
Tall Alexander to the island came.
The small breeze blew behind his turning head.
He walked the foam of ripples into this scene.
The trunk of the speaking tree looks like a tree-trunk
Until you look again.     Then people and animals
Are ripening on the branches;     the broad leaves
Are leaves;     pale horses, sharp fine foxes
Blossom;     the red rabbit falls
Ready and running.     The trunk coils, turns,
Snakes, fishes.     Now the ripe people fall and run,
Three of them in their shore-dance, flames that stand
Where reeds are creatures and the foam is flame.
Stiff Alexander stands.     He cannot turn.
But he is free to turn : this is the speaking tree,
It calls your name.     It tells us what we mean.

Muriel Rukeyser, "The Speaking Tree" from The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Copyright © 2006 by Muriel Rukeyser.  Reprinted by permission of William L. Rukeyser.

Source: The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006)

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Poet Muriel Rukeyser 1913–1980

Subjects Arts & Sciences, Language & Linguistics, Mythology & Folklore, Fairy-tales & Legends

 Muriel  Rukeyser


Although poet Muriel Rukeyser often provoked a varying critical response to her work, there was never any doubt during her five-decade literary career that a resounding passion was on display. Of her first book, the award-winning collection Theory of Flight, W. R. Benet remarked in the Saturday Review of Literature : "She is a radical politically, but she writes as a poet not a propagandist. When you hold this book in your hand . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Language & Linguistics, Mythology & Folklore, Fairy-tales & Legends

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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