Friday, February 12, 2010

Orchards, Poems, and Metaphor

While on a hike not long ago, I walked by an orchard; you know, fruit trees standing in rows. It is winter. They had been pruned and just stood there in the drab dead grass, no snow to give them some semblance of promise. Almost like old soldiers on a parade ground they stood, the same size, the same shape, all neat and waiting.

It made me think of apple orchards I have experienced, especially those when I was younger and just learning about the world. Made me think, too, about poems for some reason.

When I was a schoolboy, my friends and I would often make a little extra spending money in the early fall hiring out as apple pickers on weekends. There were two orchards in the area near us which were commercial enterprises. We loved the work: all the trees were the same size and nearly the same shape; the fruit was easy to pick from the ladders. Even if we were sent to pick the windfalls off the ground, the grass beneath the trees was kept short and we didn’t have to search. I remembered this and thought about the poems we studied at school, all the words in rows of the same length and the lines neatly arranged in stanzas like those orchards.

But then there was the collection of fruit trees at home. I suppose it could be classified as an orchard; the trees were placed in a couple of rows. The trees, however, were different sizes and shapes, different ages. They didn’t even produce the same kind of apple, and one was a cherry tree. In the spaces between the rows grew potatoes and vegetables. The gaps in between the trees were filled with berry canes and bushes, or open space. Thinking back on this orchard, I began to compare it with more modern poems: still in lines, but open and the spaces filled with other bits and pieces that still seem part of the poem. The variations make it more interesting but the lack of strict regimentation makes it seem wild. You have to get to know the space and the plants to find the essence of orchard, whereas the neatly arranged rows automatically say orchard.
Both produce fruit for human consumption. Both are arranged and cared for. The difference lies in manner, how the purpose is presented. That’s all up to the gardener.
The next time you come across what looks to you as a jumble of words and broken phrases, take a careful look. It might be an orchard.

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