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Lay for the Day
12th April

A seasonal song, from the book of Praises.

15. Of the Horse Chestnut

Leaves emerging eight
to the bud and more. The leaders
already spread wide
droop forward along the axis
of the branch. Above
their smaller reflections open
back towards the trunk.
Under these staggered pairs, balanced
and commensurate,
grow lateral ones, yet smaller –
which foursome, rising
to a level, fills the plane in
the four directions,
having clustered in its middle,
stiffly vertical
still, and crinkled and sticky, its
minute self again
and even once again. These will
overshade the stage
that cradles them, to be themselves
outgrown. The light green
involuted tines now spiking
from the structure’s heart
will wave and deepen uppermost:
The last shall be first.

And all this was built in the bud,
a single complex,
as the flower will be when it twists
up from the new growth,
splashed naive, fresh pink and yellow
on crowded faces.
Retracing the themes to the tree,
see how it’s spiralled,
too, closely on itself, in one
integral outburst,
its branches spun by what numbers?
The shoots’ one and one
and twice two, or the fingered leaves’
fives and sevens – or
their fertile dynamic combined?
“A dense pyramid-
shaped crown” as the tree-guide calls it,
the iterated
algorithms harmonised so
that the sum is one,
the several different symmetries
of parts deriving
from, yet none directly quoting
its noble total.
Our counting’s only a writing
words the tree itself
pronounces, the tree’s poetry.

John Gibbens
from Collected Poems

The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar