Thursday, June 07, 2012

`But I Shall Be Gone'

I lived almost sixty years without knowing I’m a nemophilist, one who is “fond of frequenting trees,”  “a person who loves or is fond of woods or forests.” Last week in Kraków I walked every day through the Planty, the city’s wooded park. Maples and chestnuts predominate. The days were sunny and warm but the park, like the city’s churches, was shaded and cool. I sat on a bench, watched a catalpa tree and felt almost at home.

After learning of nemophilous I consulted the Oxford English Dictionary and found its roots in the Greek νέμος, “wooded pasture, glade.” The word is judged “rare” and the only citation is to another dictionary. Nearby I discovered nemolite, “a stone bearing tree-like markings,” and nemophilist, which includes this 1995 citation from the Arkansas Democrat Gazette: “For people who aren’t afraid to die, death promises to be everything life tried to be but couldn’t. You can cheat on crossword puzzles. You can speak Urdu and become an unashamed nemophilist.”

Tim Kendall, proprietor of the blog War Poetry, has published The Art of Robert Frost (Yale University Press, 2012), a collection of sixty-five poems and Kendall’s running commentary. In his notes to “The Sound of the Trees,” originally published as the final poem in Mountain Interval (1916), Kendall cites nine poems by Frost devoted to trees. He writes:

“The identification with trees is so extensive that it becomes unconscious and physical. When he watches trees sway, Frost’s persona admits, his feet `tug at the floor’ as if rooted there, and his `head sways to [his] shoulder.’ He is enthralled to the point of hypnotic trance.”

Reading the final lines of Frost’s “The Sound of the Trees,” I remember that lone catalpa in Kraków:

“I shall set forth for somewhere,
I shall make the reckless choice
Some day when they are in voice
And tossing so as to scare
The white clouds over them on.
I shall have less to say,
But I shall be gone.”

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