When Great Trees Fall by Maya Angelou

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Maya Angelou (1928-2014) was an American poet, singer, memoirist, and civil rights activist. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry, and is credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years. She received dozens of awards and more than 50 honorary degrees. She had written seven autobiographies about her life, all of them having received accolades. She had written a great deal about society and the environment, her family and her hardships. But one of the poems somewhat stood out that deserves recognition post humus. This Genre special looks at life and death and how things change. It is somewhat tragic as it deals with the fall of the greats and the struggle to pick up where they have left off- to regenerate and regrow. This poem is dedicated to not only what has happened in California and the west coast with the forest fires, but also to all those whom we miss. Atfer all, we have a lot of growing up to do in order to understand how our environment works and how we should foster its growth in order to have any chance of life for future generations.

“When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down in tall grasses,
and even elephants lumber after safety.
When great trees fall in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
examines, gnaws on kind words unsaid,
promised walks never taken.

Great souls die and our reality,
bound to them, takes leave of us.
Our souls, dependent upon their nurture,
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed and informed by their radiance,
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold caves.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always irregularly. 
Spaces fill with a kind of soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never to be the same,
whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. 
Be and be better. 
For they existed.”

 

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