Ginkgo poem by Howard Nemerov
Ginkgo leaf (photo Cor Kwant)
The Consent

Late in November, on a single night
Not even near to freezing, the ginkgo trees
That stand along the walk drop all their leaves
In one consent, and neither to rain nor to wind
But as though to time alone: the golden and green
Leaves litter the lawn today, that yesterday
Had spread aloft their fluttering fans of light.

What signal from the stars? What senses took it in?
What in those wooden motives so decided
To strike their leaves, to down their leaves,
Rebellion or surrender? and if this
Can happen thus, what race shall be exempt?
What use to learn the lessons taught by time,
If a star at any time may tell us: Now. 

poem by Howard Nemerov
from "The Western Approaches" , 1975

Nemerov Reading Room (photo Washington University Libraries)
photos © Washington University Libraries
The main library in the Washington University Libraries system in St. Louis - Missouri, USA - houses the Ginkgo Reading Room which looks out onto the Ginkgo Walk (photo left; webcam here) and features among others a portrait of Howard Nemerov over the fireplace. 
Howard Nemerov, Edward Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of English, loved Ginkgo trees and enjoyed the Ginkgo Walk and a hand-drafted copy of his poem 'The Consent', about the fall of Ginkgo leaves, is hung outside the entrance to the reading room.

Howard Nemerov (1920-1991), a native of New York City, was a widely published poet. In 1978 he received  the National Book award and the Pulitzer prize for his Collected Poems (1977). He also wrote fiction and criticism. 
He was named Poet Laureate of the United States in 1988.

Nemerov wrote the poem 'The Consent' inspired by the sudden leafdrop of the Ginkgo (read more about this on my Tree-page).

French translation:


 A la fin Novembre, en une seule nuit
Pas même en-dessous de zéro, les ginkgos
De l'avenue perdent toutes leurs feuilles
D'un seul accord, et pas à cause de la pluie ou du vent,
Mais comme si le moment était venu : les feuilles
Dorées et vertes jonchent le gazon aujourd'hui, alors qu'hier
Elles déployaient bien haut leurs éventails palpitants dans la lumière.

Quel signal est venu des étoiles ? Comment a-t-il été capté ?
De ces lois de l'arbre, laquelle a ainsi décidé
De frapper leurs feuilles, de les faire tomber,
La révolte ou la soumission ? Et si cela
Peut se produire ainsi, qui peut y échapper ?
A quoi bon apprendre les leçons que le temps nous enseigne,
Si une étoile, n'importe quand, peut nous dire : C'est l'heure.

Translation Bernard Cassaigne

Other poems about the Ginkgo:
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: click here.
Elena Martín Vivaldi: click here.
Eve Merriam: click here.


© Cor Kwant