Extract from ‘Magnolia Tree’ in The Thirteenth Caesar, and Other Poems, 1924.

The Upward Glance

‘Up among those top leaves, what do you see,
High as our zenith, or our apogee?
I am holding the ladder foot, lest you fall;
Call down loud, and tell me all!’
I stood by the rungs quite still, to hear
And watched his scissors trim and shear:
His voice rings through the leaves so cool
Between these clippings thick as wool.
‘I have all the blossoms near me
Where I stand now - can you hear me? -
All the blossoms, all the flowers
I see as from a hundred towers:
Wisps of wool, or flakes of snow
Are but petals I let go.
This branch is like my window-ledge
High in the eaves where young birds fledge;
Perhaps I’ll find the wind’s soft nest,
Lined with feathers from her breast -
Or would you like a white flower best?’ -
‘Do not take her dappled egg:
Do not shake her nest, I beg:
Bring me down a flower instead,
Soft as milk, and white as bread.’
He climbs the tree-stem like a mast:
He shouts, ‘Now hold my ladder fast!’
I held it while he clipped the stem
Pulling the leaves to cut at them -
Now he’s climbing down, it seems,
A stairway built of sun’s bright beams
In timbers, straight and strong, of gold
Sloped like the ladder that I hold.
He says, ‘Here is the flower I’ve cut.’
I take it, thank him, smell it, but
Thinking why his path was lit,
I hear the sun explaining it.
‘This man knows where the wind’s nest lies
In thinnest branches near the skies:
He never shook it, never tried,
To steal the eggs that lay inside;
So she holds still the boughs, and I
Gild his ladder from on high;
The flower he gives into your hand
Is sweet as honey, gold as sand -
If either of you climb again,
No wind will blow, I’ll send no rain;
She’ll flash for you her feathers bright
And I will keep you in my sight,
Like golden stars you’ll walk up here,
And shine among us free from fear!’


Sacheverell Sitwell