Published in The Room and Other Poems (1965), this was one of two of his poems which Day-Lewis hoped, when asked near the end of his life, would endure. Written when he was visiting Charles Eliot Norton Professor at Harvard in 1964-5, it tackles a familiar theme in his work – the tension between staying and going, his craving for domesticity and his continuing eagerness to explore.
This tree outside my window here,
Naked, umbrageous, fresh or sere,
Has neither chance nor will to be
Anything but a linden tree,
Even if its branches grew to span
The continent; for nature’s plan
Insists that infinite extension
Shall create no new dimension.
From the first snuggling of the seed
In earth, a branchy form’s decreed.
Unwritten poems loom as if
They’d cover the whole of earthly life.
But each one, growing, learns to trim its
Impulse and meaning to the limits
Roughed out by me, then modified
In its own truth’s expanding light.
A poem, settling to its form,
Finds there’s no jailer, but a norm
Of conduct, and a fitting sphere
Which stops it wandering everywhere.
As for you, my love, it’s harder,
Though neither prisoner nor warder,
Not to desire you both: for love
Illudes us we can lightly move
Into a new dimension, where
The bounds of being disappear
And we make one impassioned cell.
So wanting to be all in all
Each for each, a man and a woman
Defy the limits of what’s human.
Your glancing eyes, your animal tongue,
Your hands that flew to mine and clung
Like birds on bough, with innocence
Masking those young experiments
Of flesh, persuaded me that nature
Formed us each other’s god and creature.
Play out then, as it should be played,
The sweet illusion that has made
An eldorado of your hair
And our love an everywhere.
But when we cease to play explorers
And become settlers, clear before us
Lies the next need – to re-define
The boundary between yours and mine;
Else, one stays prisoner, one goes free.
Each to his own identity
Grown back, shall prove our love’s expression
Purer for this limitation.
Love’s essence, like a poem’s, shall spring
From the not saying everything.