[Editor’s note: This past weekend, driving home from the mountains of West Virginia, I saw groves of sycamores lining the river bottoms and along the creeks running down the hollows. This poem, by one of the great American poets and communicants with nature, is a worthy tribute to one of the most magnificent trees in our American sylva (also captured beautifully in prose by Donald Culross Peattie — see here), and a telling metaphor for the struggle and triumph of our beleaguered world, and — dare I say it — our souls.]
In the place that is my own place, whose earth
I am shaped in and must bear, there is an old tree growing,
a great sycamore that is a wondrous healer of itself.
Fences have been tied to it, nails driven into it,
hacks and whittles cut in it, the lightning has burned it.
There is no year it has flourished in
that has not harmed it. There is a hollow in it
that is its death, though its living brims whitely
at the lip of the darkness and flows outward.
Over all its scars has come the seamless white
of the bark. It bears the gnarls of its history
healed over. It has risen to a strange perfection
in the warp and bending of its long growth.
It has gathered all accidents into its purpose.
It has become the intention and radiance of its dark fate.
It is a fact, sublime, mystical and unassailable.
In all the country there is no other like it.
I recognize in it a principle, an indwelling
the same as itself, and greater, that I would be ruled by.
I see that it stands in its place, and feeds upon it,
and is fed upon, and is native, and maker.
[“Dry Creek Sycamore” painting by Michael Chesley Johnson.]