Some would distinguish nothing here but oaks,
Proud heads conversant with the power and glory
Of heaven’s rays or heaven’s thunderstrokes,
And adumbrators to the understory,
Where, in their shade, small trees of modest leanings
Contend for light and are content with gleanings.

And yet here’s dogwood: overshadowed, small,
But not inclined to droop and count its losses,
It cranes its way to sunlight after all,
And signs the air of May with Maltese crosses.
And here’s witch hazel, that from underneath
Great vacant boughs will bloom in winter’s teeth.

Given a source of light so far away
That nothing, short or tall, comes very near it,
Would it not take a proper fool to say
That any tree has not the proper spirit?
Air, water, earth and fire are to be blended,
But no one style, I think, is recommended.


Richard Wilbur, Collected Poems 1943–2004, Harcourt, 2004.