Ode to the Elms: An Earth Day Remembrance

Poet John Smith, PEI's first poet laureate, prepares to read 'The Last One' by poet W.S. Merwin.Poet John Smith, PEI's first poet laureate, prepares to read 'The Last One' by poet W.S. Merwin. On April 22nd a large gathering attended an Earth Day Remembrance at Trinity United Church. Conceived by heritage activist Catherine Hennessey, and hosted by writer Deirdre Kessler, the event helped us honour and come to terms with the loss of 300 majestic elms in Charlottetown.

Below is a poem written by Jessie Lees to describe the event and its promise, followed by the ode written for the event by Dianne Hicks Morrow.

Final Gift

Three hundred died
cut down piece by piece
their slow dismemberment was terrible to watch
grandeur should die grandly.

We grieved, we accused and then we met—
to share delight in beauty we had known
gratitude for those who foresaw it—
sorrow and reproach were implicit.

Our Poet Laureate spoke for us
with her lovely, “Ode to Fallen Elms”
our first Poet Laureate moved us
by a poem powerfully read.

We heard about beginnings and nurturing
sang with musicians who expressed
our feelings in haunting notes
of piano, fiddle, smallpipes and saxophone.

We hushed to see photographers’ images
of entities we had known and cherished
since childhood—
they should have out-lived us.

We were a diverse community
gathered in astonishing union
a final gift
from trees that gave so much.

Jessie B. Lees 29/4/2015

Ode to Fallen Elms

Epigraph from from Henry Smith’s talk to Prince St. School on Arbour Day, 1921:

“Thirty-seven years ago there were very few trees in the public squares or streets of Charlottetown. Today we see them all around us as they are budding into leaf… These trees have transformed the city and clothed it in a verdure of living beauty. This is all the result of one day in each year.”

O stately elms that lined the streets of our beloved city,
we gather now to honour your passing.
We will not forget your high branches touching
above Longworth and Elm Avenues—
majestic arches welcoming all to our town.
We will never again take trees for granted.

Sacrificed to save strong members of your species
you deserve our praise, though our hearts be broken.
Some of you still thrive, our town’s oldest residents.
But the diseased majority are now fallen.
Your truncated forms haunt us—piled like funeral
pyres on city squares and downtown streets.

Last week sawyers cut table-top slices
from the tall stump of my favourite elm—
the one outside my toddler grandson’s window.
He watched wide-eyed while the chain saw howled.

May Arbour Day return for today’s children
to plant for the future, as did their forebears—
knowing they would not live to see their trees mature.
We will never again take trees for granted.

Dianne Hicks Morrow, Poet Laureate of P.E.I.

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