This week’s Featured Poem comes from Edward Rowland Sill, who combined his career as a poet – which began in his days attending Yale University – with roles in education, including being a professor of English literature at the University of California. His poetry was largely contributed to magazines, and a memorial volume of his work was privately printed after his death in 1887. However his poetry made an impact, with some of his verses – including The Venus of Milo – being held in particular regard.
The Tree of My Life was recently read in one of our Shared Reading groups in a dementia care home on Merseyside, with the group’s leader sharing their experience of reading this evocative choice:
“We worked through the poem with one group member taking over leading by re-reading a line, allowing time to think about the line and then re-reading the next bit. We concentrated on the lines ‘I would have it bowered in the grove, in a close and quiet vale; I would rear it aloft on the height, to wrestle with the gale’ for some time and thought about the difference between the two and making the decision on where to put the tree. We concentrated on the word ‘bowered’ and wondered together what that might mean.
‘Till suddenly, one fine day’ made a group member feel that he is suddenly alert and we went on to think of the expectations he had ‘never so grand and tall as I dreamed’. We thought about the warmth that is in the last four lines and thought of the sun shining through the leaves. At the end of the session one resident who doesn’t join us but who I always pass a poem to told me how beautiful the poem was and how she couldn’t stop reading it.”
Why not take a read and see what you think?
The Tree of My Life
When I was yet but a child, the gardener gave me a tree,
A little slim elm, to be set wherever seemed good to me
What a wonderful thing it seemed! with its lace-edged leaves uncurled,
And its span-long stem, that should grow to the grandest tree in the world!
So I searched all the garden round, and out over field and hill,
But not a spot could I find that suited my wayward will.
I would have it bowered in the grove, in a close and quiet vale;
I would rear it aloft on the height, to wrestle with the gale.
Then I said, “I will cover its roots with a little earth by the door,
And there it shall live and wait, while I search for a place once more.”
But still I could never find it, the place for my wondrous tree,
And it waited and grew by the door, while years passed over me;
Till suddenly, one fine day, I saw it was grown too tall,
And its roots gone down too deep, to be ever moved at all.
So here it is growing still, by the lowly cottage door;
Never so grand and tall as I dreamed it would be of yore,
But it shelters a tired old man in its sunshine-dappled shade,
The children’s pattering feet round its knotty knees have played,
Dear singing birds in a storm sometimes take refuge there,
And the stars through its silent boughs shine gloriously fair.
Edward Rowland Sill