Sudden Flashes of Understanding

I’m getting older, and sometimes, I get a little bummed about that.  You know how you hear people talk about how life gets richer and more enjoyable as we age?  Sometimes – usually – I have no idea what they are talking about.

Today, for some reason, a poem I have not read in years started rattling around in my head.  I don’t know why.  Perhaps because this past weekend, I took a picture of a lovely tree in my mother and father’s back yard: 

The poem didn’t arrive until two days later though, so maybe they’re not related.  Either way, the poem arrived, and was, honestly, a little annoying.  I didn’t particularly like this poem when I read it in college.  In fact, the first time I read it, I didn’t understand why it was considered a great poem.  It is sweet, and rhyme-y, and it’s about nature.  Like a kajillion other poems.  Other than that, it did nothing for me.

But there it was, rattling around in my noggin, kind of gnawing at me because I could only remember the first two lines and even then, not quite accurately.  I Googled it, just to figure it out and hopefully be done with it.

I found it, and read it, and it did something for me this time.  Not only did the words now leap off of the page and grab me by the heart, but they also made me grateful that I am getting older and have learned maybe just enough to appreciate this poem:

Trees, by Joyce Kilmer

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree. 

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest 

Against the earth's sweet flowing breast; 

A tree that looks at God all day, 

And lifts her leafy arms to pray; 

A tree that may in summer wear 

A nest of robins in her hair; 

Upon whose bosom snow has lain; 

Who intimately lives with rain. 

Poems are made by fools like me, 

But only God can make a tree.

My younger self knew nothing about feeding a hungry mouth from her own body.  Nothing about needing to lift her arms to pray.  Nothing about striving to see God all around her.  She didn’t know about the miracle of birds’ nests, or have a clue about intimacy. 

She knew nothing, and that poem couldn’t touch her.

My today self knows a little bit about all of those things, and Joyce Kilmer’s words set off chords and tones and timbers that sort of swept me off my feet.  Bring on the days and weeks and years ahead.  If getting older means that I will have a day every now and then in which I am surprised by poems, by beauty I’ve never seen before, then let me grow older and grow stronger.   Let me be surprised by sudden flashes of understanding and gratitude. 

* * *


Poetry is wasted on the young.

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