The Challenge of Description: Robert Hass on “The Problem of Describing Trees”

Check out this remarkable poem by Robert Hass about writing, about poetry — and about trees, of course. Simple language, beautiful message, touching — but not berating — the ineffable.

The Problem of Describing Trees


The aspen glitters in the wind
And that delights us.

The leaf flutters, turning,
Because that motion in the heat of August
Protects its cells from drying out. Likewise the leaf
Of the cottonwood.

The gene pool threw up a wobbly stem
And the tree danced. No.
The tree capitalized.
No. There are limits to saying,
In language, what the tree did.

It is good sometimes for poetry to disenchant us.

Dance with me, dancer. Oh, I will.

Mountains, sky,
The aspen doing something in the wind.


“The Problem of Describing Trees” by Robert Hass, from Time and Materials. © Ecco, 2008.


3 thoughts on “The Challenge of Description: Robert Hass on “The Problem of Describing Trees”

  1. tall conduit of cellulose,
    you suck water from the earth
    and breathe the air I need
    out from your fluttering vanes

    your strong limbs support me, house me,
    give form to my human world
    so easily your body yields to sharp steel

    oh generous, silent ones
    home for singing things, lichens and boys

    There is one who sees you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Walking

    Suddenly lonely, I wonder, “Who holds me?”
    The trees lean in, the forest shimmers.
    “We hold you.” And in the always, I feel
    myself holding them, the earth holding all,
    myself holding all, and the wind, the wind
    washes across the path,
    all my leaves dancing.

    Liked by 1 person

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