A little poem to memorialize the Toomer’s Oaks.
(After the felling of the Toomer’s Oaks)
Aren’t they just trees?
–Yes, they are—they were.
–And weren’t they dying anyway?
–Yes, they were—and I am—and you are too.
Dying. But someone killed them.
(Yes, you can kill something that is already dying.
If you doubt that, shoot someone with a terminal illness,
then plead your innocence.)
–But they were just trees.
–Yes—they were. But all trees have a kind of dignity,
A dignity revealed in the way they call on us to contemplate them:
St. Augustine knew that, and Arthur Schopenhauer too.
And these trees, wrapped as they were in celebration,
Wrapped as they were in meaning,
Called on us more insistently than most—even demanded contemplation.
Poisoning them, destroying their roots, was an attack on meaning,
A meaning that some, wrapped in unmeaning, could not bear.
Meaning has weight. You can crumble under it, or understand it, your call.
Yes, just trees. And these are just my students, this is just my university,
This is just my life.
–But the meaning of all these things—you just put it there, gilding and staining,
In burnt orange and blue. It is not real. It is a collective delusion. Tradition
Is no mode of access to what is real.
–Of course it is, it always has been, and it always will be. Tradition makes
Values available for appreciation, for appropriate response:
And your response is the tree’s judgment on you. Luckily for you, they are, they were,