for Robert Payne

Great Alexander sailing was from his true course turned
By a young wind from a cloud in Asia moving
Like a most recognizable most silvery woman;
Tall Alexander to the island came.
The small breeze blew behind his turning head.
He walked the foam of ripples into this scene.
 
The trunk of the speaking tree looks like a tree-trunk
Until you look again.     Then people and animals
Are ripening on the branches;     the broad leaves
Are leaves;     pale horses, sharp fine foxes
Blossom;     the red rabbit falls
Ready and running.     The trunk coils, turns,
Snakes, fishes.     Now the ripe people fall and run,
Three of them in their shore-dance, flames that stand
Where reeds are creatures and the foam is flame.
 
Stiff Alexander stands.     He cannot turn.
But he is free to turn : this is the speaking tree,
It calls your name.     It tells us what we mean.

Note to Poetry Out Loud students: This poem begins with an epigraph that must be recited. Omitting the epigraph will affect your accuracy score.
  • Muriel Rukeyser, "The Speaking Tree" from The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Copyright © 2006 by Muriel Rukeyser.  Reprinted by permission of William L. Rukeyser.

  • Source: The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006)

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What People are Saying

"What really makes a poem dynamic is not the use of grand gestures. Rather, it is the tones and expressions of the voice that help listeners connect and understand the meaning of a poem."
Angelica Sterling
2017 USVI POL Champ