Humans ramble, trees long to walk

The poem I offer today is from one of my very favorite anthologies, This Same Sky (edited by Naomi Shihab Nye). It is one of those poems that stays in my head after I read it, rolling around with my thoughts and repeating parts of itself from time to time. It also carries some very strong memories from my own life.

When I was thirteen, I fell completely in love with ballet. It was the only thing I cared about, and I thought it was the only thing I would ever want to do with my life. (I don't know how to communicate how crazy about it I was, but imagine what it would take to motivate a normal seventh-grader to do sixty minutes of ballet exercises literally every single day of a summer, with no one else's involvement or encouragement. Or go check out some of my posts from 2003 and 2004 and you'll see a bit of how I was). However, up to that point my training had been fairly poor, and was very much limiting me. Training in ballet must not only be good, but it must start early and be intensive. I cannot think of any other pursuit in which this is more necessary.

So I was desperate to start dancing at a professional school before I lost any more time, but I was in a bit of a sitch — basically, for a thirteen-year-old to be accepted somewhere where she can receive really good training, she needs to have already had some good training to start with, and I did not have that.

I did end up at a good ballet school, not the big-name school I had dreamed of attending, but a place where I could finally learn decent technique. But there was about a year when I was spending a ton of time and emotional energy training on my own as best I could as well as in my crappy classes, and trying to find a way into a good program. I was quite unhappy and hopeless at times, because I loved ballet so much but it seemed like I would never get even the chance to get to be any good.

I love this poem because of how beautifully it captures the feeling of a deeply felt purpose being frustrated. In my mind it is always tied to that time in my life, when I felt profoundly, in that bell-ringing-in-the-heart way, that I was meant to do something which I was prevented from doing — as this tree feels bound to walk.

Wanting To Move

Continually, a bell rings in my heart.
I was supposed to go somewhere, to some other place,
Tense from the long wait —
Where do you go, will you take me
"With you, on your horses, down the river, with the flame
of your torches?"

They burst out laughing.
"A tree wanting to move from place to place!"
Startled, I look at myself —
A tree, wanting to move from place to place, a tree
Wanting to move? Am I then —
Born here, to die here
Even die here?
Who rings the bell, then inside my heart?
Who tells me to go, inside my heart?
Who agitates me, continually, inside my heart?

-Vijaya Mukhopadhyay
trans. by the poet


Bambola 2/19/2009 11:20 PM  

Wow. This poem really is beautiful. I can understand the frustration you would have felt & it really is captured in the poem.

The ringing bell in the heart is the most stunning image.

tanita s. davis 2/20/2009 1:08 AM  

The bell I imagine this tree hearing is one that is a gong -- a Buddhist mountain temple where the bell is sounded with a log, it's so big. I imagine the trees feel it calls them elsewhere -- and imagining being unable to answer, to fulfill one's life goal, creates a poignant yet gorgeous poem.

Janet 2/20/2009 3:18 AM  

How beautiful! I want to save this one.

I remember having similar feelings about the piano when I was a pre-teenager, and listened to Van Cliburn play the Emperor Concerto for the first time. Oh, how I wanted to be a concert pianist... but oh, how late it was to realize it.

Nandini 2/20/2009 7:06 AM  

Sad and beautiful. Makes me think of trees planted far from their native soil ...

jenniferknoblock 2/20/2009 10:42 AM  

"Continually, a bell rings in my heart."

Lovely. I think this poem is hopeful--the bell wouldn't be ringing if the dream wasn't possible to achieve. (I'm a cup-half-full kind of girl.)

Cloudscome 2/20/2009 1:53 PM  

What a beautiful way to express the longing and the frustration. Thanks for sharing it!

Summermoon 2/20/2009 2:28 PM  

I love this.

Priya 2/20/2009 5:38 PM  

I used to be wholly obsessed with gymnastics. :) And I love the poem.

mermaid 2/21/2009 12:33 AM  

the poem is surely beautiful, and lingers in my mind as well. i too have had some passions that i could not quite get taking off and this relates with me as well. <3 thanks for sharing this!

Poppy 2/22/2009 6:25 PM  

I understand this so well, thank you for sharing :)

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