Stephen Fuller *** Poetry, Essays

March Gratitude 3/10/20 “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein or the One Where I Talk About the First Poetry I Loved and How it Defined not Just My Passion for Verse, but My Faith.

To become a poet, it seems to me obvious that one must have fallen in love with a poem at some stage in those young formative years. My first love was The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein… well really everything by Mr. Silverstein, who was read aloud to my Second Grade class in Durham by a student teacher. This book, in particular, has remained the first book I buy for new parents; one I believe must be in very child’s library, and for that matter, every adult’s. By 1985, it had laid the most basic foundation of poetry in my mind and, in many respects, the most basic foundation of the me I was becoming and thus, the me I betrayed tossed on the seas by my angry God.

Reflecting on the recover of that boy and how I am guiding him into adulthood, I drew on this piece for the final stanza of my recent poem, “Here, the Wings I Took:

“Here, the wings I took, have them back.
I am not that thief anymore, and for him,
I apologize. Now, in our intersections,
Marked by three trees, I vow my best blood
To give. Until nothing left but on a stump
You could sit
, not that you’ll ever want
To sit here. And… now, on separate paths
My amends will be recovering the man meant
To be here and fly, aloft on my own wings.”

This poem contains many layers, some quite personal to be revealed in due time, but here in this last stanza, I ask for forgiveness from those I hurt with the choices I made when as a ‘thief’ I betrayed vows and oaths I had honorably taken. The symbolism of three trees reflect both the personal story, but also the return of my faith. In my spiritual mind, trees represent an endurance of life that we cannot fathom as humans; I have and will continue to find my temple in nature. So while my God may not be a traditional Christian God found in a house of worship, it is informed by my Catholic upbringing and thus the symbolism of “three.” “I vow my best blood to give,” equally a reference to the greatest sacrifices taken by martyrs who did with their lives not just good work, but great; and of course what the death of Jesus represents to me: we must give our best blood as he gave His. Once we accept this greater force, we have an obligation to do with the life we have been given the very best we can to help one another on our journeys.

The next lines express where my faith begins to deviate from the traditional. About three years ago, while on walk up a small mountain/large hill in Wales, I was struck by a natural space so powerful in its beauty that I fell on the ground and wept in full recognition of the God I had betrayed. I vowed to recover my path and began what has been a long and often painful journey. Like Odysseus’ final years, there was still much work to be done to arrive at home. Now home, I need to fly on these, my own wings, not anything given to me; yet with a faith buoyed by the strength of a God I cannot begin to truly comprehend.

I am grateful to that teaching assistant in Second Grade and to whoever gave my family The Giving Tree that sat on our shelves throughout my childhood.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, 1964

Once there was a tree….
and she loved a little boy.
And everyday the boy would come
and he would gather her leaves
and make them into crowns
and play king of the forest.
He would climb up her trunk
and swing from her branches
and eat apples.
And they would play hide-and-go-seek.
And when he was tired,
he would sleep in her shade.
And the boy loved the tree….
very much.
And the tree was happy.
But time went by.
And the boy grew older.
And the tree was often alone.
Then one day the boy came to the tree
and the tree said, “Come, Boy, come and
climb up my trunk and swing from my
branches and eat apples and play in my
shade and be happy.”
“I am too big to climb and play” said
the boy.
“I want to buy things and have fun.
I want some money?”
“I’m sorry,” said the tree, “but I
have no money.
I have only leaves and apples.
Take my apples, Boy, and sell them in
the city. Then you will have money and
you will be happy.”
And so the boy climbed up the
tree and gathered her apples
and carried them away.
And the tree was happy.
But the boy stayed away for a long time….
and the tree was sad.
And then one day the boy came back
and the tree shook with joy
and she said, “Come, Boy, climb up my trunk
and swing from my branches and be happy.”
“I am too busy to climb trees,” said the boy.
“I want a house to keep me warm,” he said.
“I want a wife and I want children,
and so I need a house.
Can you give me a house ?”
” I have no house,” said the tree.
“The forest is my house,
but you may cut off
my branches and build a
house. Then you will be happy.”

And so the boy cut off her branches
and carried them away
to build his house.
And the tree was happy.
But the boy stayed away for a long time.
And when he came back,
the tree was so happy
she could hardly speak.
“Come, Boy,” she whispered,
“come and play.”
“I am too old and sad to play,”
said the boy.
“I want a boat that will
take me far away from here.
Can you give me a boat?”
“Cut down my trunk
and make a boat,” said the tree.
“Then you can sail away…
and be happy.”
And so the boy cut down her trunk
and made a boat and sailed away.
And the tree was happy
… but not really.

And after a long time
the boy came back again.
“I am sorry, Boy,”
said the tree,” but I have nothing
left to give you –
My apples are gone.”
“My teeth are too weak
for apples,” said the boy.
“My branches are gone,”
said the tree. ” You
cannot swing on them – ”
“I am too old to swing
on branches,” said the boy.
“My trunk is gone, ” said the tree.
“You cannot climb – ”
“I am too tired to climb” said the boy.
“I am sorry,” sighed the tree.
“I wish that I could give you something….
but I have nothing left.
I am just an old stump.
I am sorry….”
“I don’t need very much now,” said the boy.
“just a quiet place to sit and rest.
I am very tired.”
“Well,” said the tree, straightening
herself up as much as she could,
“well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting
Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest.”
And the boy did.
And the tree was happy.

13 Responses to “March Gratitude 3/10/20 “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein or the One Where I Talk About the First Poetry I Loved and How it Defined not Just My Passion for Verse, but My Faith.”

  1. Tanya Cliff

    Powerful! I love that you shared the thread that pulled all the way through your life from 2nd Grade to inform you poetry now. Teachers take note: Your power to impact children is profound.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
  2. Liz Gauffreau

    I don’t think I’d read The Giving Tree before. I enjoyed the video with Silverstein narrating. It’s a very moving allegory of unconditional love. I can see why you were so affected by it.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • Stephen

      The allegory became foundational for me as I guess I wrote about in the post. Eventually, on my Into My Own story I will get to the green jolly rancher theory of life… it is clearly informed by this book.

      Like

      Reply
  3. Omatra7

    This is one of my all time favorite books!! I love this book!! That story is amazing and absolutely resonates! I always share it with my school kids!! And my own children grew up listening to that book ❤️

    Is a brilliant book! ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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