Drawing inspiration from sources as diverse as Robert Frost, Charles Dickens, William Faulkner, Edgar Allen Poe, and the New England Transcendentalists, R. Tirrell Leonard Jr.’s poetry collection, In The Murmuring Trees, combines an admirable ambition of poetic style with a deep sympathy and appreciation for the fields, rivers and woodlands of his native Massachusetts.
The book begins with a fine poem, “A Circle of Friends,” that evokes both people and place: the poet finds himself thinking “Of grass-grown rivers / Concord, Asabeth and Sudbury…” near ”that sleepy hollow / Where Sandborn, Thoreau, Channing, / Emerson, the Alcott’s and Hawthorne lay / Dreaming like a circle of friends.” He imagines these 19th century New England writers and religious leaders “Walking sticks in hand / Talking as they saunter together / Laughter floating through the branches…” The small details here and the choice of words “walking sticks” and “saunter” shape the reader’s appreciation of the scene and mood with their light touch and warm nostalgia.
In some of the poems, there is a sense, as well, of an older style, ornate and stately—a touch of John Greenleaf Whittier or James Russell Lowell. Pushed too far, though, the style becomes over-done: “For children born of Cain, the earth has fed / Of Abel’s blood in ghosts of those undead… And freed ancient demons to feast on souls.” There’s a tendency for the poet to slip into a Gothic mode of “swooning mind,” and “knights and trolls” and “my terror bursts in screams.”
The book would be stronger if Leonard would tone down the overwrought, Byronic imagery and concentrate on his clear talent for raising the everyday into a luminous reality. “A fog is sitting with my mind / For coffee dreams or tea will wake / My soul so stirs the lemon rind,” he writes. This is lovely and concise. Poetry fans would look forward to more such “coffee dreams.”
Also available in hardcover and ebook.