Reading: John Ashberry – Some trees

What is it that I like about the following early John Ashberry poem (he was 21 when he wrote it)?

These are amazing: each
Joining a neighbor, as though speech
Were a still performance.
Arranging by chance

To meet as far this morning
From the world as agreeing
With it, you and I
Are suddenly what the trees try

To tell us we are:
That their merely being there
Means something; that soon
We may touch, love, explain.

And glad not to have invented
Such comeliness, we are surrounded:
A silence already filled with noises,
A canvas on which emerges

A chorus of smiles, a winter morning.
Placed in a puzzling light, and moving,
Our days put on such reticence
These accents seem their own defense.

It’s the second strophe. After the standard, but somehow fresh observation about the still speech of trees the words “to meet as for from the world as agreeing / with it” sound mysterious yet are perfectly clear if we look carefully. A quality that is typical for Ashberry, I have been told. The enjambement (I like to call it syncopation) “what the trees try / To tell us we are” is brilliant: for a brief moment between the 2nd and the 3th strophe, we are simply “what the trees try”, namely the still speech between neighboring trees. The tension is released and explained in the rest of the poem, that is weaker. The chorus of smiles and the silence filled with noises are worn-out metaphors that don’t add much. The last two lines with their strong rhyme “reticence / accents / defense” sound like kitsch to my ear.

But what this poem accomplished in the second strophe makes up for its later mediocrity. We get a glimpse of Ashberry’s later genius.


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