Thoreau and the Lightning

Henry David Thoreau himself is struck from this David Wagoner poem as re-interpreted by video artist Adam Tow, whose inspiration springs from a different era.



The white ash tree, the one he’d visited

time after time and season after season

and had studied and admired like a proud father,

had been struck by lightning. Lightning

had gouged downward, tossing broken limbs

every which way, had split the trunk

into six twenty-foot splayed, upstanding fence rails

still held up by the roots, had plowed a furrow

into a cellar (where it scorched the milk pans),

had bolted out in a shower of soil, had shattered

weatherboards and beams and the foundation,

had smashed a shed, unstacked and scattered a woodpile,

had flung pieces of bark two hundred feet

in all directions. It had thrown into disorder

or destroyed in a moment what an honest farmer

had struggled for years to gather, and had killed

a great tree. Was he supposed to be humbled

by the benign, malign, inscrutable purposes

of the Source, the blundering Maker of Thunderheads,

and give thanks he hadn’t been standing under it?




This poem first appeared in Ecotone and was reprinted in Best American Poetry 2011. It is collected in After the Point of No Return (Copper Canyon Press, 2012) and is reprinted here with the author’s permission. Poem copyright 2011 David Wagoner, all rights reserved.

More about David Wagoner.

Visit Adam Tow’s web site or follow Adam on Twitter.

This motionpoem is presented in collaboration with Best American Poetry 2011 (Scribner), with thanks to David Lehman, series editor.



2 Responses to “Thoreau and the Lightning”

  1. A profound poem and interpretation, especially for any of us who have lived on and worked the land, and left it, and who have experienced the loss of a family farm. Well done, poet and artist.

  2. gembegentle says:

    creation happens over time..destruction in a just a heartbeat,
    this poem so beautifully illustrates this. stunning job to all involved in it’s creation.

Use the Form Below to Leave a Reply

Your Name: (Required)

Email Address: (Required)


Your Comments: