On A Barren Hilltop In The Moonlight - Poem by Patrick White
On a barren hilltop in the moonlight,
as if the soul of the rock it’s rooted in
had been torn out of it by the nape of the neck
the broken pine bears its agony alone
in violent supplication to the wind and the stars.
A ladder of fractured limbs, horns. Fireseeds
under the eyelids of its windfall pinecones,
a brutalized will to live indomitably
as it clings like the claws of a dragon
to the earth, thrashing the air to soar away,
Perseus on Pegasus or Draco around the axis mundi.
Not a thing, but the history of an event
in the making. I will endure. I will endure.
And I shall be beautiful in the way I am broken.
The gash of lightning that scorches my heartwood
and blisters the resin of my long, slow tears.
The torch of pitch I put out in the stars
like the hasty fire of a zodiacal heretic
that refused to shine by a reflected light.
Live by a creation myth not of its own telling.
Blue green chalked by the moon through
the crags of its needles, its wings all quills
without feathers, it drops its fruit
like sticky bullets as if it were emptying itself
like a revolver it might have held to its head
at one time to protest its own dying like the shriek
of a deermouse in the talons of a snow owl
or a madman in a safe sane house for anarchists
who delegitimize chaos at the expense
of the abyss that engendered it out of nothing
as surely as starfish and galaxies share the same blueprint.
Not a tree, but the tormented first letter
of a shakey alphabet that had its fingers broken
for striving to write its full name in pain
across the sky like surgical scars on its heart
and eyes, a mantra of struggle and suffering
like a knot in the rough going of all living things.
A dynamic paradigm of the commotion of space
and time winging it on the fly from the start
as if life didn’t so much evolve as improvise
on the unlikeliest of beginnings backlit
by the same arcane radiation that houses the stars
each to their own mode of shelter and solitude
like the strong rafter, flying buttress, crooked crutch
of a broken pine tree holding up the sky
with nothing but the shoulder of the moon
to lay its head against when the weight becomes
unbearable as the excruciating faith it has
in risking it all like its mutilated will to live
in making the attempt to fail nobly standing its own ground.
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