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Robert Hass, poet

From the Online News Hour, April 30, 2008

The problem of describing trees

JEFFREY BROWN: There’s a poem early on here that maybe you could read for us, because it gets at a lot of different themes that you write about. Could you read that for us? It’s called “The Problem of Describing Trees.”  

ROBERT HASS: “The Problem of Describing Trees.” So I think another thing that happened because of this distraction hiatus is that, when you return to the materials of the art, there’s a thing of, what kind of an instrument is this that you were doing?


ROBERT HASS: Yes, what are you doing with it? So this is “The Problem of Describing Trees.”

The aspen glitters in the wind.

And that delights us.

The leaf flutters, turning,

Because that motion in the heat of August

Protects its cells from drying out. Likewise the leaf

Of the cottonwood.

The gene pool threw up a wobbly stem

And the tree danced. No.

The tree capitalized.

No. There are limits to saying,

In language, what the tree did.

It is good sometimes for poetry to disenchant us.

Dance with me, dancer. Oh, I will.

Mountains, sky,

The aspens doing something in the wind.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, the line, “There are limits to saying in language what the tree did.”


Limits of saying anything

JEFFREY BROWN: By implication, there are limits to say anything. 

ROBERT HASS: Yes. I mean, there are two ways of saying this — or there are a million ways of saying this. One way is to say what Wittgenstein said, language philosophy in the early 20th century, “The limits of my language are the limits of my world,” which I don’t think is quite true.

Entire interview here.


The city is built
To music, therefore never built at all,
And therefore built forever.
~Alfred Lord Tennyson

Peter Porter (1929-)

Wittgenstein’s Dream here.

He came to believe that a normal, honest human being
could not be a professor. It
is the academy that gave
him his reputation
of impenetrable abstruseness;
never has a
man deserved a reputation less.
who came to him expecting to find a man
of incredibly deep learning, found a man
who saw mankind
held together by suffering
alone, and he invariably advised
them to be
as kind as possible to others.
He read, like
all inquisitive men, to multiply his experience.
He read Tolstoy (always getting bogged down)
and the Gospels
and bales of detective stories.

He shook his head over Freud.
When he died
he was reading Black Beauty.
His last words were: “Tell them I had a wonderful life.”

May 2018
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