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Poetry readings: A Storm in April


Poetry readings: Seed Leaves
Richard Wilbur Poet
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I do a lot of vegetable and herb gardening and this little poem came out of that. In fact, to hear this poem properly, you have to imagine yourself as grovelling on hands and knees in the row and looking at a seedling that's just come up.

The poem is called Seed Leaves, and it's... it's sub-titled Homage to Robert Frost. This poem is indebted to Robert Frost, first because the first two lines of it, the first two rhymes, are stolen from his poem, Putting In The Seed, and also I think because some of the sentiments implied in it would not... would not have been inacceptable to him.

Seed Leaves

Here something stubborn comes,
Dislodging the earth crumbs
And making crusty rubble.
It comes up bending double,
And looks like a green staple.
It could be seedling maple,
Or artichoke or bean.
That remains to be seen.
Forced to make choice of ends,
The stalk in time unbends,
Shakes off the seed-case, heaves
Aloft, and spreads two leaves
Which still display no sure
And special signature.
Toothless and fat, they keep
The oval form of sleep.
This plant would like to grow
And yet be embryo;
Increase, and yet escape
The doom of taking shape;
Be vaguely vast, and climb
To the tip end of time
With all of space to fill,
Like boundless Igdrasil
That has the stars for fruit.
But something at the root
more urgent than that urge
bids two true leaves emerge,
and now the plant, resigned
to being self-defined
before it can commerce
with the great universe,
takes aim at all the sky
and starts to ramify.

One of the pleasures of writing I think is to... is to take a whole of a word and carry it back to its... to its root, and the word 'ramify', now I'm afraid is chiefly associated with business and professional language. People talk about the ramifications of this or that problem, and as they say it, they're not really thinking of the branching out of the problem. I'm trying to carry it back to the root.


Acclaimed US poet Richard Wilbur (1921-2017) published many books and was twice awarded the Pulitzer Prize. He was less well known for creating a musical version of Voltaire's “Candide” with Bernstein and Hellman which is still produced throughout the world today.

Listeners: David Sofield

David Sofield is the Samuel Williston Professor of English at Amherst College, where he has taught the reading and writing of poetry since 1965. He is the co-editor and a contributor to Under Criticism (1998) and the author of a book of poems, Light Disguise (2003).

Tags: Seed Leaves

Duration: 3 minutes

Date story recorded: April 2005

Date story went live: 29 September 2010