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UNDER THE PLUM TREE

Under the plum tree, in the sun, an old man,

reads the last paragraphs of ‘Wuthering Heights’.

‘My walk home was lengthened by a diversion

in the direction of the kirk. When beneath

its walls, I perceived decay had made progress,

even in seven months: many a window

showed black gaps deprived of glass; and slates

jutted off here and there, beyond the right line

of the roof, to be gradually worked off

in coming autumn storms.’ From one of the branches

of the tree metal feeders hang with seeds.

The birds are profligate in their habits.

Wild grasses are beginning to sprout beneath.

‘I sought, and soon discovered, the three headstones

on the slope next the moor: the middle one grey

and half buried in the heath; Edgar Linton’s

only harmonized by the turf and moss

creeping up its foot; Heathcliff ’s still bare.’

Two peacock butterflies have lighted

on the reader’s thick head of grey hair.

He is unaware of the nomads, which perhaps

have wintered in the tree. They flitter off.

All the cities of Eurasia are theirs.

‘I lingered round them, under that benign sky:

watched the moths fluttering among the heath

and harebells, listened to the soft wind breathing

through the grass, and wondered how any one

could ever imagine unquiet slumbers

for the sleepers in that quiet earth.’ A blackbird

begins to sing at the top of the tree.

The old reader thinks of a walled garden

in Konigsburg or Venice; and the sun

through the leaded lights of austere libraries,

where bird song is imagined and adored;

and symphonies of tongues applauded quietly.

Blossom falls from the tree onto the page.

He closes the book cautiously, mating

the black finality of the ink

with the petal’s white flesh.

© Copyright David Selzer
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2 Responses
  • Clive Watkins
    March 27, 2020

    The last twenty-one lines (from ‘Two peacock butterflies’ onwards) form a very strong passage. I particularly like the various contrasts, parallels and shifts of perspective, the slippages between real and invented or remembered worlds – for instance, the fragile but showy beauty of the butterflies and the thick grey hair; the reader’s settled status in the garden and the wandering life of the butterflies; the local and weightless inconsequentiality of ‘flitter’ and the epic range of ‘All the cities of Eurasia are theirs’. Into the mind of the ‘old reader’ come visions of walled gardens in Königsburg and Venice, another opening of the perspective. The’leaded lights of austere libraries’ – libraries which, like the poem itself and the mind of the ‘old reader’, are book-haunted spaces – recall by contrast the ruined windows of the kirk in the fictional “Wuthering Heights”. I find this intricate circling and interweaving of details most attractive. The concluding lines fuse the imagined and the real. The delicacy of the white petal recalls the earlier butterflies. (Perhaps irrelevantly, I think of Moritake’s famous haiku in which a butterfly alighting on a twig is for a moment mistaken for a fallen blossom returning to the bough.) The petal dies and is imprinted upon the black ink of the text within the pages of the book the ‘old reader’ has been reading, parts of its text having been incorporated into the text of the poem. (What a fine touch is ‘cautiously’, as if the reader were wary of the fusion he has it in his power to bring about.) It is a wonderfully rich ending. – Congratulations, Old Reader!

  • John Huddart
    March 31, 2020

    I have a fondness for:

    ‘where bird song is imagined and adored;
    and symphonies of tongues applauded quietly’.

    [About the only two lines not claimed by Clive in his masterful elegy on yours!]

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