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November 11, 2011

Poetry Friday--"The Fifteenth Summer"

One of my $1.00 finds at the used book store is The Inner Room: Poems by James Merrill. I took a fancy to the poem below because it appeals to the side of me that despite loving books, is easily distracted by what's going on all around.
The Fifteenth Summer

Scrambling with a book
The hundred-or-so feet
Up the Australian pine
To a slung-rope seat--
The nerve it took!

Small wonder, often as not
He never read a line,
Flaubert or Howard Fast,
Just pondered earth and ocean,
The odd car’s crawling dot:

Why were we here?
To flow. To bear. To be.
Over the view his tree
In slow, slow motion
Held sway, the pointer of a scale so vast,

Alive and variable, so inlaid
As well with sticky, pungent gold,
That many a year
Would pass before it told
Those mornings what they weighed.
And as if to prove the point of my distractedness, after initially reading the poem I found myself looking up an Australian pine. I had never heard of it, but it is true to its name and is found in Australia. Its Latin name is Casuarina, and the Australian National Botanic Gardens tells us that it is "named after the cassowary (Casuarinus) because the long, drooping branchlets were supposed to resemble its feathers."

Then, in researching James Merrill, I found he was born, and I assume, raised in New York City. So now I have the puzzle of how does an Australian pine end up in a poem by a New Yorker? If anyone has a guess, please tell us in the comments below.

April at Teaching Authors is the host of the Poetry Friday Round-Up.

Photo by Arthur Chapman.


  1. My guess?

    A long time ago, James Merrill belonged to a poetry group, and every Friday they shared poems they either liked or wrote. One of those poems had an Australian pine in it. Not familiar with the tree, he looked it up in an encyclopedia and learned many interesting things about it. Those things fermented in his subconscious for years until, one day, he wrote a poem and included the tree.

    I predict that one day - perhaps on a Tuesday, perhaps on a haiku sticky - you will write a poem with an Australian pine in it.

  2. What a crazy thought--I sometimes question your sanity, Barbara. ;-)

  3. I'm with Barbara and predict you'll write future poems with Australian pine. "Still Life with Austrailian Pine" or somesuch. Who knows how and where these things creep into our poems? I'm just so happy that they do! Thanks for sharing.

  4. __As a child, I called my tree 'Metooqua,' an Algonquin word meaning tree; it was my get-away place, where I watched the world go by and dreamed of other things. I've scribbled many things about my tree.
    __Looking forward to your Austrailian Pine haiku ... too! ;<) _m

  5. Okay, I've met your challenge. Come back on Tuesday.

    Magyar where did you learn Algonquin?

  6. My childhood tree was a silver maple, not so exotic as an Australian Pine, but still, I was convinced that we could communicate. I still spend some time leaning against its rough bark to say hello every time I go back home.

  7. If not the tree, Mary Lee, I'll bet the squirrels listened! Think about all the little creatures, some invisible, that may have heard your words!

  8. Somehow I only discovered James Merrill this year. While Merrill may have heard the Austrailian pine mentioned in a colleague's poem, (Good imagination, Barbara!)it's probable that he met one or more in Key West. Merrill spent part of each year there, presumably the part that was winter in Connecticut,because his partner had a home there. Lucky you to find Merrill's book, Diane.