Very late, the stars come out. The clouds have retreated to the high mountains to feed the snowfields. As the sky clears, it grows colder, but not cold enough to freeze the captive rain that yet drips from the pines, splashing in the lingering puddles that reflect trembling starlight. Deep darkness prevails between sky and water. The sliver of waning moon must have risen by now, but it is lost in the mountain's clouds, like one of those hermit sages in a Japanese poem. Eventually, it will clear the foggy rampart and bring those rumpled turrets a foretaste of the swiftly following day. Should the sky remain clear, I might wake to see the trees dried, and the remnant of leaves scattered on the freshly nourished lawn. A sunny afternoon would please me now; a bright winter solstice to remind me of the turn toward summer, and mark the passage of this longest night.
A BLACK BIRCH IN WINTER
by Richard Wilbur
You might not know this old tree by its bark, Which once was striate, smooth, and glossy-dark, So deep now are the rifts which separate Its roughened surface into flake and plate.
Fancy might less remind you of a birch Than of mosaic columns in a church Like Ara Coeli or the Lateran, Or the trenched features of an aged man.
Still, do not be too much persuaded by These knotty furrows and these tesserae To think of patterns made from outside-in Or finished wisdom in a shriveled skin.
Old trees are doomed to annual rebirth, New wood, new life, new compass, greater girth, And this is all their wisdom and their art -- To grow, stretch, crack, and not yet come apart.