Dorothy Livesay’s The Self-Completing Tree

I’ve been reading Canadian Poet Dorothy Livesay’s The Self-Completing Tree between working in the garden and taking walks. I’ll have to admit that I probably like what she has to say more than I do the way she says it. In fact, I was a little amazed at how similar our views of the world were when I read Linda Rogers’ excellent introduction. Nor am I sure I like that the book is arranged thematically rather than chronologically.

That said, I have found much that reawakens old feelings, even if there is little to bring new awareness. I did like this poem from the opening section that focuses on the title of the collection which offers an entirely different perspective from the similarly titled poem by Yeats:

SECOND COMING
What unwithering
is this?
the gnarled tree un-
knotting itself?
While in autumn
the dogwood blossoms —
against red rowan
is green and white
coming be
coming.

Actually, it reminds me of a favorite William Carlos Williams poem about a “dead? cherry tree that blossoms forth in the spring. Perhaps I merely like the poem because it reinforces my prejudice that despite my old bones I’m still blossoming forth with new ideas and new works of art.

I’m sure that my fondness for “Life Styles? comes from the same kind of prejudicial view of the world:

A city street
a corner
a nest
is always
over-peopled

but I accept
the situation
enjoy the tucked-in
kosher grocer
listen with silent laughter
to the sweet
private Hebrew lingo
demand
my buttermilk
my yogurt
FRESH!

I’m so lucky:
Can fly off
beside the rivering waters
cabined and closed
facing the sunset
than fans the fast-flowing
river Opposite
are the shivering yellow woods
sturdy enduring

I’d like to think
we will never give up
the two life-styles:
smell
of the teeming, jostling city
and life surrounded
by elms oaks maples
harbouring bluejays and squirrels:
scent of earth fast flowing water
gold drift of leaves—

I’d like to think
my grandchildren
would understand —
breathe hard —
seize unto these
two ways of being human.

I sometimes worry this is a hypocritical, not to mention unrealistic, view of the world, but I’ll have to admit to loving life in a sophisticated, international city with fine restaurants and art studios but thrive on nearby wildernesses. No matter how delightful the city, I cannot be happy unless I can escape to the country or to what passes for wilderness in the 21st century.

I only hope that my grandchildren and their grandchildren can somehow share that experience of two very different, but very enriching worlds.

One thought on “Dorothy Livesay’s The Self-Completing Tree

  1. I went back—curious about Livesay (did notknow her work) and looked at various comments, critiques, bio, and had a slightly different take on her. Where you got the impression that her parents differed, but gave her unstinting support, her father (a respected journalist well-known in Canada) doted on her in a way that seemed beyond supportive. He clearly wanted her to have the career he couldn’t have (in literature) and in some ways, she was almost a greenhouse hybrid. (Her mother, by the way was a published poet in her own right). But the father treated Dorothy’s mother as a lightweight,
    dingdong, Edith Bunker and openly disdained her, travelling to Europe with Dorothy at one point because he felt her mother couldn’t handle the culture. He also spoke to her, even as pre-teen in
    ways some adolescent psychologists would consider
    invasive. The effort she made to shed their intense interest was the work of her life; but an argument could be made that she had to do it to survive intact. Resisting her father’s fascination may have forced her into a choice I’d hate to make: love me or lose yourself. I think she chose well.

What do you think?