Martin Robertson

Now and Then

Five Poems for Roni


One full half of the willow was riven away,

the other half hollowed back almost to the bark

and broken through in two places near the root

so that only three struts of worn wood

held up the tree.  One branch from the main fork

was broken and lay level from a ragged end

resting on the strong spread of another willow.

Yet fallen and soaring bough were rich in leaf

as the solid trunks flanking this along the river.

How can the sap rise?

How does the tree live?


The living spirit, as beautiful and strong

as the living body, has bravery to transcend

the dying body, till the body dies.  



hangs in the air, an interrupted song.


There is no last rose.

This year the constellations crowd and wander

richer, wilder it seems than I have seen.

No, the seasons offer

no analogy for loss.

Yet, this untamed recurring

of brave, ephemeral beauty

does bring us something

beyond its loveliness:

a resharpening, reshining

of an ache into the pang

which is so much more than pain.


Sea, stone, cypress,

sharp-cornered shadow,

wrenched olive (willow-

grey, but no river,

no mist)—another

harsher country.

Here, in my country,

flares no cypress.

Misty willow

dreams by the river,

drops a soft shadow.

You, in your other

land, tread another

sharper shadow

than ever willow

weaves in this country

—olive, straight cypress,

sea and no river,

harsh sea-light.  River

weaves in this country

soft light for willow

to spread shade other

than olive, cypress

mean by a shadow.

Am I this shadow

beside the river?

—grey willow, other

than olive.  Cypress

are you?—whose country

is without willow.

Am I the willow?

misty country,

soft-light river?

Are you the other?

Even the shadow

cast by a cypress

is cypress.  Shadow

of willow on river

is another country.


The waste, the loss we said.

Yes, but how bright and brave

the flag at the mast head

goes last under the wave.