"Elegy for a Tree" has a metaphor as its basis and the key is revealed in the very first word of the poem. "Eighteen years he stood before my window." The numeral for eighteen in Hebrew is chai, and the same word also means "life." Thus Alter Esselin's poem is about life, and specifically about the tree that stands before his window but it's also about the life of the poet as well. The tree has found its way into an inhospitable the world and emerged "as a cripple from birth, so too does the poet Alter Esselin regard himself as a misfit. A desert hermit. And the window through which they share thoughts is really a mirror in which the poet sees the reality of his life. No wonder that when the tree is shattered, the poet is also shattered...and "skips two meals and never takes the pipe from his mouth." It is also worth noting that the tree was a real tree which grew out of the edge of the sidewalk and the building in which we lived. And it did look into his window. The tree can be seen in the picture just behind Alter in the snapshot. The tree did die-but not of a lightning bolt. It just died, I guess of malnutrition…there was no soil for it to get enough nuturing substance.
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