The Tree at Michaelmas
The tree at Michaelmas was always bare,
Its pale branches stretched across the sky.
In contrast to the grey clouds there
Were ruddy veil like twigs held high.
The veins of sap were still alive
Hid deep below a show of death.
And we feared it might not survive
As the cold air could freeze our breath.
Just one bold robin filled its twigs with song
And blue tits perched in rings around its crown,
Until one day a strong man came along,
Took up his axe and chopped it down.
© Martin Porter 2001
“The Tree at Michaelmas” is an original poem, written on a chilly day in September in an office but recalling the view from a conservatory window. The details are straightforward, the rhyming scheme is a similarly simple abab, and the scansion is unsophisticated, despite the variation from pentameter to tetrameter and back again. The three stanzas each appear to handle single concepts on first reading, until the final stanza, where the last two lines introduce some humour, or tragedy, or both.
Generally, I tend not to write consciously humorous poetry, although humour does seep through some of my work. An example of the more subtle humour occurs in 1:25000 with the opening line “Only slightly lost” implying the possibility that the narrator holds the belief that “lost” is relative. It is a gentle nod to times when walking companions acting as navigators have marched us into bogs because they knew roughly where we were.
On a more horticultural note, a tree being bare at Michaelmas would be unusual as most deciduous trees would not be shedding trees that early in the autumn., Michelmas falling on September 29th and "Old Michaelmas" on October 10th or 11th. The weather is usually less harsh than described at this time of year. But in law, the Michaelmas term covers October to December, allowing a degree of accuracy, and some schools also speak of the autumn term as the Michaelmas term.
Many years after completing “The Tree at Michaelmas” in this form I came across Housman’s “Loveliest of Trees”. Interestingly, “Loveliest of Trees” also has similar but not the same scansion, simple, but not the same rhyming scheme, and three stanzas. Perhaps I had seen "Lovliest of Trees" before and it had been buried in my unconscious thoughts, producing a poem with the same subject. Perhaps there is just something about the form that particularly suits trees.