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The Stoic's Pine


Persistence has lent this tall white pine
In old age an upstanding vigor, as branch
And bole, though showing telltale patches
Of blight, seem to say, "You too may stanch
Dripping sap or knit broken limbs in time,
If you but accept pain, take joy in snatches."

The white pine's belief in ancient virtue
Stems from one hot serendipitous noon
You took M. Aurelius outside for hours,
Reading on a bed of pine needles; soon
You'd fallen into the just sleep of the True,
And could not see the pine use all its powers

To tap the Meditations with siphoning root
Until, by capillary action, it filled its head
With worthy intentions: to stand erect,
To lean neither too far left nor right, to wed
Height to the life of mind and abjure the brute
Charm of wanton grove or willowy sect.

But more: from philosophy it understood how
Ice storms, gnawing beetles, and human young
(Boys' pocket knives probe and torture bark)
Could be faced with solemn, if quite unsung,
Fortitude; how a natural end to every bough
Must come; and how a sharp crack in the dark

Only presages what's already planted in ground
From the start: the quietus life moves toward,
Whether standing still or nodding in the sun.
Had it to face chainsaw and be rendered board,
While another might make a mournful sound,
A soughing in wind, this pine, its last minute begun,

Would recall that serene equipoise and calm
An emperor once praised as the surest sign
Of the settled soul; before the canted snarling cut,
It would tighten inner concentric rings and resign
Itself to hurt, as those who seek the victor's palm
Must pass the Colosseum's gate and hear it shut.


Brian Culhane

Southwest Review

Volume 97, Number 4


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