Culture Studies

When Great Trees Fall

A poem by Maya Angelou.

It should be no secret by now that I enjoy poetry that refers to nature.

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
examines,
gnaws on kind words
unsaid,
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
nurture,
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
radiance,
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
caves.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.

Maya Angelou’s poem on mortality, change and the constant flux of nature struck a chord with me. After my grandfather’s death earlier this year I found my attention becomes increasingly caught by poignant reflections such as this.

Maya captured the feeling of breathlessness that comes after learning of the passing of someone you care about, or were influenced by. The sudden disappearance of a guiding light, and a creative flair. Perhaps the influence of a great soul is secondary to the space it leaves behind. I never so keenly felt the influence of my grandfather until he was no longer around to influence me.
The same can be said of a great tree, a great soul, and the feeling of resonance that comes with discovering a great poem.

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