After being diagnosed with an incurable form of cancer, Christian Wiman explains that he wrote this poem during a period of despair. Listen to his moving reading, which we couldn't include in our show. Download the MP3 and share it with your friends!
Incurable and unbelieving
in any truth but the truth of grieving,
I saw a tree inside a tree
as if the leaves had livelier ghosts.
I pressed my face as close
to the pane as I could get
to watch that fitful, fluent spirit
that seemed a single being undefined
or countless beings of one mind
haul its strange cohesion
beyond the limits of my vision
over the house heavenwards.
Of course I knew those leaves were birds.
Of course that old tree stood
exactly as it had and would
(but why should it seem fuller now?)
and though a man's mind might endow
even a tree with some excess
of life to which a man seems witness,
that life is not the life of men.
And that is where the joy came in.
From the book "Every Riven Thing" by Christian Wiman. Copyright © 2010 by Christian Wiman. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.