The Fig Tree

Ah the wonderful fig tree. It grows everywhere and the figs appear mostly in October and November, although there are, of course, winter figs, even spring figs and summer figs I have heard. But there is something special about the fig tree. Forget the milky sap that some are allergic to, forget even the lack of rain we have and the prospect of cold this year, just remember the fig.

I can recall over forty five years ago in the rains and sleet of autumn in my school in Dunstable, Bedfordshire. Our English Literature teacher trying to warm our lives by talking of a splendid and magnificent Mediterranean sea, warm places and sun kissed beaches. All of it was a mystery to young boys dreaming of finding a girlfriend, a good job, a life.

Instead, he taught us a poem, a very special poem, simply called ‘Figs”.

It was by the splendid English poet and author D H Lawrence, and it carried me away to my island in the sun.

by D.H. Lawrence

The proper way to eat a fig, in society,
Is to split it in four, holding it by the stump,
And open it, so that it is a glittering, rosy, moist, honied, heavy-petalled four-petalled flower.

Then you throw away the skin
Which is just like a four-sepalled calyx,
After you have taken off the blossom, with your lips.

But the vulgar way
Is just to put your mouth to the crack, and take out the flesh in one bite.

Every fruit has its secret.

The fig is a very secretive fruit.
As you see it standing growing, you feel at once it is symbolic :
And it seems male.
But when you come to know it better, you agree with the Romans, it is female.

The Italians vulgarly say, it stands for the female part ; the fig-fruit :
The fissure, the yoni,
The wonderful moist conductivity towards the centre.

The flowering all inward and womb-fibrilled ;
And but one orifice.

The fig, the horse-shoe, the squash-blossom.

There was a flower that flowered inward, womb-ward ;
Now there is a fruit like a ripe womb.

It was always a secret.
That’s how it should be, the female should always be secret.

There never was any standing aloft and unfolded on a bough
Like other flowers, in a revelation of petals ;
Silver-pink peach, venetian green glass of medlars and sorb-apples,
Shallow wine-cups on short, bulging stems
Openly pledging heaven :
Here’s to the thorn in flower ! Here is to Utterance !
The brave, adventurous rosaceæ.

Folded upon itself, and secret unutterable,
And milky-sapped, sap that curdles milk and makes ricotta,
Sap that smells strange on your fingers, that even goats won’t taste it ;
Folded upon itself, enclosed like any Mohammedan woman,
Its nakedness all within-walls, its flowering forever unseen,
One small way of access only, and this close-curtained from the light ;
Fig, fruit of the female mystery, covert and inward,
Mediterranean fruit, with your covert nakedness,
Where everything happens invisible, flowering and fertilization, and fruiting
In the inwardness of your you, that eye will never see
Till it’s finished, and you’re over-ripe, and you burst to give up your ghost.

Till the drop of ripeness exudes,
And the year is over.

And then the fig has kept her secret long enough.
So it explodes, and you see through the fissure the scarlet.
And the fig is finished, the year is over.

That’s how the fig dies, showing her crimson through the purple slit
Like a wound, the exposure of her secret, on the open day.
Like a prostitute, the bursten fig, making a show of her secret.

That’s how women die too.

The year is fallen over-ripe,
The year of our women.
The year of our women is fallen over-ripe.
The secret is laid bare.
And rottenness soon sets in.
The year of our women is fallen over-ripe.

When Eve once knew in her mind that she was naked
She quickly sewed fig-leaves, and sewed the same for the man.
She’d been naked all her days before,
But till then, till that apple of knowledge, she hadn’t had the fact on her mind.

She got the fact on her mind, and quickly sewed fig-leaves.
And women have been sewing ever since.
But now they stitch to adorn the bursten fig, not to cover it.
They have their nakedness more than ever on their mind,
And they won’t let us forget it.

Now, the secret
Becomes an affirmation through moist, scarlet lips
That laugh at the Lord’s indignation.

What then, good Lord ! cry the women.
We have kept our secret long enough.
We are a ripe fig.
Let us burst into affirmation.

They forget, ripe figs won’t keep.
Ripe figs won’t keep.

Honey-white figs of the north, black figs with scarlet inside, of the south.
Ripe figs won’t keep, won’t keep in any clime.
What then, when women the world over have all bursten into affirmation ?
And bursten figs won’t keep ?

Poem for Ersi

It was all so long ago,
Days that never seemed to end,
The gentle rising of the sea in the harbour,
And the birds that came to my window
Just to sing.

And as a child I was warmed
By the sun and by the constancy
Of life among flowers
Brushed by the cooling summer wind.

But my childhood ended that summer
As the birds, frightened, flew away;
And to my window
Came an invader with bullets
That put an end to song.

‘Come’ cried my mother, ‘we must leave here,
We must find refuge, come now
Your childhood is over.’
I cried as my childhood died.

It was all so long ago.
Today, halfway across the world,
I watch as we all grow old.

I watch as we learn that frontiers divide
Not only our lands
But our minds.
And though walls fall,
Somewhere, someone is building another.

And still invaders invade
As dreams and homes are crushed
By the will of the few
Who say they speak for many.

But I remember my invader,
Who came that day to my window:
The grey and tired face
Lined with mud and fear and anger
Now spent in age and death.

I shall outlive him.

And soon I will walk among birds
Along that dusty road
That leads me home to Kyrenia.

The Olive Tree

I bought a field in Kriti where grew an olive tree,
I watered it and pruned it with assiduity,
Until I found I owned the ground
But did not own the tree.

So I bought the tree, for weeks I thought
The haggling would not stop.
Now I can pick my olives, and start a little shop.
Oh No, they cried, you bought the tree but not the olive crop.

At least I can sit under it, a little seat I made,
Where I could smoke a cigarette and drink some lemonade;
But no, although the tree was mine
I did not own the shade.

In my despair, I cut it down, if not for shade or food,
It might provide a cheerful fire
If that was all it could . . .
Alas, although I had the tree, I did not own the wood.

Anon (As far as I know)


If you decide to go to Ithaca,
Hope that the journey is long,
Full of adventure and experience.

Those Laestrygonians, the Cyclops, angry Poseidon,
Do not be afraid of them
For you will never see them on your way
As long as your thoughts are pure
And passion touches both your spirit and your flesh.

The Laestrygonians, the Cyclops, fierce Poseidon,
You will not meet
Unless you carry them in your heart;
Unless your heart puts them before you.

Pray that your journey be long,
That there will be many summer mornings
When with joy and delight you will enter harbours
You have never entered before;
See Phoenician ports, gain gifts
of mother of pearl, coral, amber and ebony
Perfumes, sensuous and varied,
As many as you can sense.

Visit those varied Egyptians cities
And gather knowledge from the wise.

But always, have Ithaca in your mind.

Your destination is to arrive there,
But do not hurry your journey –
Better that it may last many years,
That you toss out your anchor at some island

As you grow old, richer for having traveled,
Expect nothing from Ithaca
Other than the journey of your life.

For without her, you would never have begun,
And it is this that Ithaca has given you,
What more could she offer?

And if you do arrive
And find her poor…
Ithaca has not deceived you.

For you now have the experience, the wisdom to know
What all these Ithacas mean.

C. P. Cavafy
October, 1910