Summary of “The Wisdom of Trees: Walt Whitman on What Our Silent Friends Teach Us About Being Rather Than Seeming – Brain Pickings”

“When we have learned how to listen to trees,” Hermann Hesse wrote in his lyrical love letter to our arboreal companions, “Then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy.” Two generations earlier, a different titan of poetic sentiment extolled trees not only as a source of joy but as a source of unheralded moral wisdom and an improbable yet formidable model of what is noblest in the human character.
“How it all nourishes, lulls me,” he exulted, “In the way most needed; the open air, the rye-fields, the apple orchards.” The transcendent record of Whitman’s communion with the natural world survives in Specimen Days – a sublime collection of prose fragments and diary entries, restoring the word “Specimen” to its Latin origin in specere: “To look at.” What emerges is a jubilant celebration of the art of seeing, so native to us yet so easily unlearned, eulogized with the singular electricity that vibrates in Whitman alone.
Standing at its mighty four-foot trunk, he contemplates the unassailable authenticity of trees as a counterpoint to what Hannah Arendt would lament a century later as the human propensity for appearing rather than being.
How strong, vital, enduring! how dumbly eloquent! What suggestions of imperturbability and being, as against the human trait of mere seeming.
Almost emotional, palpably artistic, heroic, of a tree; so innocent and harmless, yet so savage.
Science scoffs at reminiscence of dryad and hamadryad, and of trees speaking.
One lesson from affiliating a tree – perhaps the greatest moral lesson anyhow from earth, rocks, animals, is that same lesson of inherency, of what is, without the least regard to what the looker on supposes or says, or whether he likes or dislikes.
Complement this particular fragment with a tender illustrated ode to our bond with trees, the story of how Marianne Moore saved a rare tree’s life with a poem, and a lyrical short film about our silent companions, then revisit Whitman on democracy, identity and the paradox of the self, and his timeless advice on living a vibrant and rewarding life.

The orginal article.