Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

When Xerxes, king of Persia, was on the march,
He met a beauty, marvelous and fair,
And hung her round with costly ornaments,
Tasking a man to be her paladin:
So says the Persian-born Herodotus.

Her lovely tent of green threshed light from air,
And crooked, wide-flung branches sought the ground,
Rambled, rose again as conqueror,
A forest-like though single specimen
Of elegance, one oriental plane.

Xerxes praised boles that reared a canopy
Of fine-lobed leaves to colonize the sky
And overcome the land with clouds of green
That drank up sun and ruled by mystery,
Allurement vanquishing the sway of kings.

Her heart of birdsong in quicksilver change,
Her limbs at daybreak shining like long suns—
To celebrate this paragon of trees,
The son of Darius decked boughs with gold
And hoarded for himself green memory.

—Marly Youmans

Image by Yohannes Plenio via Creative Commons. Image cropped.