Live Virtual Group Session: 7pm EDT May 1st 2020

What a wonderful, warm, and far-flung group convened for our session – from around the country (Pittsburgh, the Bronx, Martha’s Vineyard, and beyond) and around the world (Morocco, Greece, India at 4:30 am!).

Our text for this session was “The Trees” by Philip Larkin, posted below. We discussed the poem, which in true Larkin fashion, reveals itself, with close reading, to be far more complex than one first imagines. And so our collective reading revealed the layers of this wonderful piece – like the trees’ “rings of grain.”. Our discussion was energetic and far-reaching. Participants pointed to the poem’s language, drawing a connection between Larkin’s “greenness” as a “kind of grief” to the opening lines of TS Eliot’s “The Wasteland:”

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire…

 We discussed the complexity of man’s relationship to nature – in that we turn to it for solace and reassurance, finding only confirmation of our solitude and our mortality. One participant pointed to the “Russian doll”-like nature of the poem, the ways in which layers of meaning are embedded in its three short stanzas. And a comment about the end of the poem itself being a beginning – “afresh afresh afresh” – not only affirmed this notion but also echoed, with its sonorous repetition, in our participants’ subsequent writing.

We offered the prompt: Write about what roots you. And the pieces it inspired were indeed as multifaceted as the poem itself. Our participants shared generously, and many have posted here. (Thank you!) We look forward to gathering again with you soon.

Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured. If you chose to draw, your are welcome to share as well, simply email your visual file to and we will add and credit it to the post here.

Please join us for our next session: Sunday, May 3rd at 3pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.

We look forward to seeing you again soon!

The Trees 
By Philip Larkin

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

from The Collected Poems (Faber, 1993), by permission of the publisher, Faber & Faber Ltd.

Narrative Medicine Book Club: May 1, 2020

In today’s pages we witness the death of Tarrou. It’s a very moving scene, not least for the ways that it shows the deep friendship and tenderness between Tarrou and Rieux. The narrator describes the silence that surrounds the doctor in the wake of the death, a silence that he has noticed throughout the plague but that this time feels like “the definitive defeat, the one that ends wars and makes of peace itself an irremediable suffering.” Again this somber acknowledgement that the suffering goes on even as the plague ends – and for the doctor, who no longer has his immediate task to occupy him, that suffering only deepens. A lesson here, for how we need to support those in our own communities who will be feeling the effects of this time perhaps even more acutely once it has passed. 

FOR TOMORROW: read to the end of the book! And don’t forget to register for our final meeting with translator Laura Marris (and submit questions if you have them!) on the book club main page: