A beloved member of my family will be marrying in June, and I was asked to find a poem apropos to the celebrants and the occasion. I have written two epithalamiums (or epithalamia) and can testify to the difficulty of composing a good poem that is also a marriage poem. Anyway, in this instance, I wanted to find a suitable long-term-love-commitment poem by someone other than myself. Talk about abundance of choice!
Knowing the celebrants’ interests and tastes narrowed things down a bit, and the poem had to be “short & sweet.” The ceremony will be out of doors on a trail in the Blue Ridge Mountains, which made me inclined to look for natural imagery in the poem–but nothing so dense as to distract from the place itself.
What a splendid task! I allowed myself the luxury of looking at poetry books randomly, paging slowly through anthologies, browsing handouts I’ve collected for and from classes over the years. Just flitting from poem to poem over the course of weeks, occasionally marking something that seemed particularly likely…no pressure…
When I came across the poem “Tree Heart/True Heart” by Kay Ryan, I was startled into admiration.
It doesn’t start off like a love poem. It offers little in the opening imagery to suggest romance, or life attachment, or promise.
It is breathtakingly brief, revolves around wordplay and connotations, sounds lovely when read aloud.
The last two lines clinch the “commitment” in the poem; and the three lines preceding that final, spare, achingly-sweet sentence made me gasp when I re-read the poem, trying to figure out how Ryan managed all this in 16 lines, not one of which contains more than five words.
It was published in The New Yorker on September 26, 2011 (p. 116), and I am certain that I will be violating some sort of copyright if I reproduce it on this blog.
I hope Ms. Ryan forgives me, though if The New Yorker or her publishers find out, I may have to take this post down. It seems likely to me that The New Yorker has bigger fish to try to catch, however, so here goes. And I am putting in a plug for Kay Ryan’s books. Go buy them, preferably not second-hand, because poets make hardly any money from book sales and no money whatsoever from second-hand sales.
Tree Heart/True Heart
by Kay Ryan
The hearts of trees
are serially displaced
outward to a ring.
They aren’t really
what we mean
by hearts, they so
willing to thin and
stretch around some
upstart green. A
real heart does not
give way to spring.
A heart is true.
I say no more springs
My beloveds–who are an ocean apart at present and miserable about it, and who aim to make sure that each has “no more springs/without you” –agreed that this poem suited their intentions, their personalities, and the leafy stretches of the hiking trail.
Thank you, Kay Ryan. Thank you, human beings, whoever it was who invented the arts, and poetry.