American Poetry
for Students of English Worldwide

..............Jack Kimball.............

Natural Opposites:
Contradictions and Associations with JOSEPH CERAVOLO

Sometimes poets use opposite or contradictory statements to express many sides of a feeling. After all, smooth surfaces can be dangerously deep (think of the smooth surface of a deep lake, for instance). Joseph Ceravolo, who worked as an engineer, suggests that natural objects that we often take for granted can be viewed as extraordinary, even unnatural. In the following two poems Ceravolo looks at trees and finds they contain wild feelings.

When the First Tree Blossoms

Snow fall like April:
the icicles stick. Like April
the birds float.
It is white foam.

Like April when the first tree blossoms
and you do not know it.

Happiness in the Trees

O height dispersed and head
in sometimes joining
these sleeps. O primitive touch
between fingers and dawn
on the back

You are no more
simple than a cedar tree
whose children change
the interesting earth
and promise to shake her
before the wind blows
away from you
in the velocity of rest

The following words have the SAME meaning as words from Ceravolo's two poems. Find words in the poems which mean the SAME as these:

1) spikes of ice _______
2) quiet or sleep _______
3) to unite _______
4) pledge or vow _______
5) speed _______
6) flowers _______
7) scattered _______

The words that follow have meanings OPPOSITE to words in the poems. Find words in Ceravolo's two poems that have OPPOSITE meanings:

1) breaking up _______
2) sophisticated _______
3) activity _______
4) slowness ________
5) unfasten _______
6) almost never _______

Decide if the following statements are TRUE or FALSE.

1) Another way of expressing "foam" is "a mass of bubbles."
2) The words "rest" and "velocity" contain opposite ideas.
3) "Primitive" means "ugly."
4) "Joining is like "sticking."
5) "Promise" is like "vow."
6) "Icicles" and "blossoms" are opposites.
7) When the wind "blows" it "moves."
8) "Dispersed" means "united."
9) "Height" means the opposite of "tallness."
10) "Sometimes" means "always."

Although When the First Tree Blossoms is a short poem, by using metaphors the poet expresses a whole range of cold and warmth. For example, "Snow fall like April" is a meataphor. Find at least two metaphors in the poem.

Is "white foam" the birds, flowers, or snow, or all three? What do you think?

Some people have described Happiness in the Trees as an early morning song to the beauty of being half-awake and half-asleep. What words in the poem show the speaker is still sleepy?

What words show the speaker is awake?

Do you agree that a cedar tree is "simple"?

The cedar tree's children "promise to shake her." To whom does "her" refer?

What metaphors describe the trees and saplings?

What metaphors describe the movement of the wind?

Make a list of opposites. For example:

hot / cold
sunrise / sunset
grandmother pink / baby boy blue
animal / human
flying / stationary
modern / antique

After you have compiled your own list, write down some ideas connected to or associated with these opposites. Examples:

modern = scientific, new, bought at a store

antique = made by hand, old, sometimes "handed down" in one's family


hot = July, peppers, Amazon

cold = February, lime frosting, the North Pole

Now using a few words from your own lists of opposites and associated ideas, write a poem that contains one or two oppopsite or contradictory feelings. If you like, make these feelings become a totally new feeling.

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