By Donald Hall b. 1928 Donald Hall

Today they cut down the oak.   
Strong men climbed with ropes   
in the brittle tree.
The exhaust of a gasoline saw   
was blue in the branches.

The oak had been dead a year.
I remember the great sails of its branches   
rolling out green, a hundred and twenty feet up,   
and acorns thick on the lawn.
Nine cities of squirrels lived in that tree.

Yet I was happy that it was coming down.   
"Let it come down!" I kept saying to myself   
with a joy that was strange to me.
Though the oak was the shade of old summers,   
I loved the guttural saw.


By night a bare trunk stands up fifteen feet   
and cords of firewood press
on the twiggy frozen grass of the yard.
One man works every afternoon for a week   
to cut the trunk gradually down.

Bluish stains spread through the wood   
and make it harder to cut.
He says they are the nails of a trapper   
who dried his pelts on the oak
when badgers dug in the lawn.

Near the ground he hacks for two days,   
knuckles scraping the stiff snow.
His chain saw breaks three teeth.
He cannot make the trunk smooth. He leaves   
one night after dark.


Roots stiffen under the ground
and the frozen street, coiled around pipes and wires.   
The stump is a platform of blond wood   
in the gray winter. It is nearly level
with the snow that covers the little garden around it.   
It is a door into the underground of old summers,   
but if I bend down to it, I am lost   
in crags and buttes of a harsh landscape   
that goes on forever. When snow melts   
the wood darkens into the ground;   
rain and thawed snow move deeply into the stump,   
backwards along the disused tunnels.


The edges of the trunk turn black.   
In the middle there is a pale overlay,   
like a wash of chalk on darkness.
The desert of the winter
has moved inside.
I do not step on it now; I am used to it,   
like a rock, or a bush that does not grow.

There is a sailing ship
beached in the cove of a small island   
where the warm water is turquoise.
The hulk leans over, full of rain and sand,   
and shore flowers grow from it.
Then it is under full sail in the Atlantic,   
on a blue day, heading for the island.

She has planted sweet alyssum
in the holes where the wood was rotten.
It grows thick, it bulges
like flowers contending from a tight vase.   
Now the stump sinks downward into its roots   
with a cargo of rain
and white blossoms that last into October.

Donald Hall, “Stump” from Old and New Poems. Copyright © 1990 by Donald Hall. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Source: Poetry (May 1964).


This poem originally appeared in the May 1964 issue of Poetry magazine

View this poem in its original format

May 1964
 Donald  Hall


Donald Hall is considered one of the major American poets of his generation. His poetry explores the longing for a more bucolic past and reflects the poet’s abiding reverence for nature. Although Hall gained early success with his first collection, Exiles and Marriages (1955), his more recent poetry is generally regarded as the best of his career. Often compared favorably with such writers as James Dickey, Robert Bly, and James . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Time & Brevity, Living, Nature, Trees & Flowers, Death

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Elegy, Pastoral

Report a problem with this poem

Your results will be limited to content that appeared in Poetry magazine.

Search Every Issue of Poetry

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.