The Poet's Perspective: 'The Plum Tree' ponders seasonal change

March 21, 2011

Robin Becker, the 2010-11 Penn State laureate and professor of English and women's studies at the University, is sharing several of her poems via video during the 2010-11 academic year, aiming to engage people "in the deep pleasures of poetry -- language crafted and shaped from words, the 'ordinary' material we all use every day," to explore how and why poems move us.

"The Poet's Perspective" is a weekly poetry video series scheduled to appear during the fall 2010 and spring 2011 semesters on Penn State Live and in Penn State Newswires. Prior to each poem, Becker offers her thoughts about what inspired her to write the piece, then poses a question to consider. Below and in the video link of "The Plum Tree," Becker composed another poem using wavelike lines to help illustrate the cyclical nature of seasonal change.

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The natural world surprises us so routinely -- with the seasons, with the constellations -- that it's easy to miss the remarkable right under our noses. This poem celebrates the simple phenomenon of birds broadcasting seeds and thereby rejuvenating a landscape with young plum trees. I experienced this generative blossoming as a connection to the cycles of living and dying we all observe.

Question to Consider: Choose a tree and study it for a year, noting the changes it undergoes with the seasons. Make notes. What animals visit and when? How do rain and sun and moonlight and snow affect your tree? What feelings and moods do you bring to your periods of observation and how do they enter your notes?

The Plum Tree
                 for Carolyn

        Like Shiva, many-armed, already ancient
when my friend bought the place,

                the tree’s cracked limbs clawed the air, where
        nine feeders hosted generations­ noisy

chickadee and siskin, nuthatch and woodpecker.
                Desiccated, unyielding, the tree drew, in spring

                        indigo bunting and grosbeak to its withering.
        She could not bear to take it

                down and did not, year after year.
When a sharp-shinned hunted from a wire,

                the farmyard emptied, feeders like out-of-season
        decorations ornamenting a leaflessness -­

        One year, thin saplings rose around the great
dead tree, celebrants about a maypole,

                and the sweet scent
        of blossoming returned

in the miniature plum trees the birds seeded.
                Young keepers of the temple fire,

                        garlanded in white, they circled
        the goddess-tree, their fallen petals

marking a sacred wheel, within which
                the dead cede ground to the living.

"The Plum Tree" originally appeared in Prairie Schooner, Fall 2009.

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View Robin Becker's schedule of appearances at online. To read or watch videos of previous poems in the series, click here. To listen to an occasional podcast series where Becker and a small group of students and faculty discuss one of her poems, visit "Liberal Arts Voices."

  • To watch a video of Robin Becker reading 'The Plum Tree,' click on the image above.

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated March 28, 2011