Verse > Anthologies > The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse > 348. The Tree of Knowledge
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Nicholson & Lee, eds.  The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse. 1917.
  
348. The Tree of Knowledge
By John Gray  (b. 1893)
  
  FROM what meek jewel seed
    Did this tree spring?
How first beat its new life in bleak abode
Of virgin rock, strange metals for its food,
Towards its last hewn mould, the bitter rood?        5
  First did it sprout, indeed,
    A double wing.
 
    Earth hung with its gross weight
    Its loins unto:
The tender wings, with hope in every vein,       10
Beat feebly upward, saying: ‘Is this the pain
The Sooth spake of; to lift to God again
  This blackness’ dark estate
    Reformed anew?
 
    ‘Mine ’tis, of fruit mine own,       15
    To work this deed:
Earnest of promise absolute, these green
Sweet wings; a million engines pulse therein.
Yet can I leave not for a space, to lean
  Upon a fulcrum known,       20
    To know my need.’
 
    With which, the seed upthrust
    To God a scale;
Wondering at its fibre and tough growth;
Saying, the while it purposed: ‘For He knoweth       25
My sore extremity, how I am loth
  To cleave unto the dust
    Which makes me hale.’
 
    Long while the scale increased
    In height and girth;       30
Cast many branches forth and many wings;
Wherein and under, formed and fashioned things
Had great content and speech and twitterings:
  Insect and fowl and beast
    And sons of earth.       35
 
    Stern, netherward did grope
    Each resolute root
Of the tree, making question in the deep
Of spirits, where the mighty metals sleep,
How long ere from its base the rock should leap;       40
  Saying: ‘Yet have I hope
    Of that my fruit.’
 
    Sprang from its topmost bough
    The hope at length
Fearsome and fierce and passionate. The sire       45
Warmed his son’s vitals with celestial fire,
Feeding him with sweet gum of strong desire,
  Lest be not stanch enow
    His godly strength.
 
    Until the gardener came       50
    With his white spouse,
Wounding the tree, and ravishing the son,
(Whence curses fallen and a world undone.)
For that rape, wrathfully a shining one
  Drave them with fearful flame       55
    Without their house.
 
    Race upon savage race,
    Rough brood on brood,
Defiled before it, whiles the tree scanned each;
Leaned leaf and branch to grapple and beseech;       60
Till, on a certain day, requiring speech
  Of the tree, at its base
    The whole world stood:
 
    ‘What hast thou given us,
    Thou barren tree?       65
“Knowledge,” thou answerest? Thou hast set agape
The door of Knowledge only. Thy limbs ape
Some truth. We love thee not, nor love thy shape.
  Imposture, thus and thus
    We fashion thee.’       70
 
    Sorely then handled it
    The gardener’s sons.
Strangely they built it newly, having cleft
Its being all asunder; stem bereft
Of quivering limbs, save one to right and left,       75
  Urging the self-same wit
    It gave them once.
 
    Lo! all my glories fall.
    Of these my woes,
What know those wrathful men, save, in yon place,       80
Perhaps, yon athlete, stripped for my embrace?
If longing cheat me not, writ in his face,
  He knows about it all,
    He knows, he knows.
 
    ‘Sorrow! What sin they now,       85
    Those wrathful men?
Passion! thou’rt come to me again too soon:
Too hot thou givst me back the fiery boon
I gave thee; love consumes me, that I swoon;
  Thou, on my topmost bough,       90
    My fruit again.’

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