Maya Angelou’s ‘When Great Trees Fall’

When Great Trees Fall
Maya Angelou
When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly.  Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed.  They existed.
We can be.  Be and be
better.  For they existed.

24 thoughts on “Maya Angelou’s ‘When Great Trees Fall’

  1. Michelle Post author

    Thank you, Lucy.

    Your last blogpost was extraordinarily beautiful.

  2. Rodgers Charbonneau

    There are many hundreds of poems having to do with dying or death, Shakespeare having written several of them; however, Ms. Angelou’s fine “When Great Trees Fall” — written in tribute to a robust young man– has to be equal to Walt Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last In The Courtyard Bloomed,” honoring Abraham Lincoln, that great American also prematurely fallen. In fact, I suspect that Ms. Angelou may have had that famous poem in mind when she wrote this one. In any case, here is a classic poem transcending dates and languages. Frederick G. Rodgers, Ph.D.

  3. Tanya

    This is a fantastic use of words to fit thoughts and feelings from losing a loved one. I find it to be most gripping to the heart!

  4. Pat Faggett

    A warm and inspirational collection of words fitting the thoughts of loss and remembrance.

  5. tim brown

    I will be reading this at my great aunt’s funeral next Friday. It’s strange but when I knew I wanted to say something I looked with instinct at Professor Angelou’s work googling poem for a loss of a loved one. This immediately came up and I could not imagine saying anything else.

  6. Debbie

    I have read this poem over and over and each time it comforts me in a diiferant way. I lost my precious baby girl 2 years ago an March 2nd although it still feels like yesterday.

  7. tasha

    This poem has helped me on the long journey towards making peace with the loss of my grandfather who means the world to me. Thank you

  8. Rick Gabrielly

    Thank you Michelle for posting this beautiful poem. One of my childhood friends shared it upon the untimely passing of his angelic wife at 50 years young. Much love goes out to you for this honoring tribute. xxoo

  9. greendingy

    A perfect poem. My brothers 20 year old son, my nephew, died 2 weeks ago. Losses like these refuse the logic we desperately seek to soothe ourselves, for there is none. There are poems, and words, and whatever is inside the mysterious workings of time. Thank you for your post.

  10. Krystal Parker

    The love of my life passed away almost 3 years ago.He was the strongest man I’ve ever known. And I often read this peom and find comfort thinking of him. So sad to hear about Maya passing she will be truly missed and her legeacy will forever live on with his.

  11. Trish Grant

    Thank you Maya Angelou for your precious words of wisdom and love. You have inspired me through the years and I will pass your words down to my children’s ears and hearts to embrace. You are truly loved and missed.
    May you soar on the wings of angels… R.I.P.

  12. shellie

    Thank you Maya you have been a mother to many, teacher, may you rest in peace.

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  16. Beth Winkel

    Maya Angelou, who joined Lee Nagel, two days later helps me to deal with my grief of Lee’s sudden, unexpected, passing. It was like an unexpected storm that took that tree, that took Lee. May you both rest in peace.

  17. Amanda

    My bonus mom passed two days before Maya, and this was read at her memorial service. She was a great tree if ever there was one.

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