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Poetry Canadian

Tree of Life, The

by (author) Sarah Klassen

Turnstone Press
Initial publish date
Sep 2020
Canadian, Nature, Mennonite
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2020
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In poems that contemplate human experience, Sarah Klassen charts the paths we travel in search of the tree of life. This quest for the nexus of spiritual fulfilment takes readers from the steps of ruined cities to perilous migrations, school playgrounds, and into dream. It laments injustice, and finds pause in nature and sacred rituals. With firm, guiding hands, Klassen leads the way across the tumult of existence in pursuit of an elusive Eden.

About the author

Born in Manitoba’s Interlake, Sarah Klassen learned at an early age to appreciate both birdsong and nature’s silence. An accomplished poet and fiction writer, she has won the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award (Journey to Yalta), the High Plains Award for Fiction (A Feast of Longing), the Canadian Authors Association Award for Poetry (A Curious Beatitude), and the National Magazine Gold Award for Poetry. Her work has been nominated for the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award, the Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction, and the Aqua Lansdowne Prize for Poetry. The Witternbergs is her first novel. Klassen lives in Winnipeg.

Sarah Klassen's profile page

Excerpt: Tree of Life, The (by (author) Sarah Klassen)

The Road


We laced our hiking boots, grabbed poles,
stowed maps and bottled water in our backpacks.
A flag at half-mast made us pause, not halt.
A siren screamed. Our children asked:
Where are we going? Can we bring the dog?
We slammed the door, shielded our eyes
against the ascending sun.



At any point in time, in one hemisphere or the other,
a significant percentage of our planet's more than
seven billion people are on the move, travelling on
air, land, water, in an overcrowded Zodiac, firm
or flimsy aircraft, flat on the wind-buffeted top of
a container. They walk on washed-out roads, on
burning sand, on bleeding feet, cross tangled jungles,
climb mountain trails, bearing the unbearable weight
of a piece of bread, coins for something to buy,
someone to buy off. Children too sick or too little
must be carried on top of the weight of fear: that the
overburdened boat will capsize in the ocean swell,
pirates will climb on board, the plane will stray into
forbidden airspace and mysteriously disintegrate,
the train will be derailed, strength will fail. At the
border, there will be a wall.


We climbed the narrow trail. Streams of clear water trickled down
from pools we could not see. We sang travelling songs, told stories
about youth and love and bravery. Higher up, the air was thin.
Circling silently, the raptors waited for our steps to falter.
Clouds covered the sun.
Our children were hungry.

We came down from the mountain, entered a forest.
Sunlight filtered through shimmering aspen leaves,
the forest floor gold-dappled. We crossed a river
and arrived at the desert, the land of thirst. Our eyes burned.
Dust filled our mouths. Under our feet, sand shifted.
In this Lenten landscape our children cried for water.
We looked around for palm trees and acacia.
Where are the cypress trees? we wondered.
Where is the tree of life?

Editorial Reviews


A call to compassion, The Tree of Life is oxygen for the weary--, and Klassen a prophet at the crossroads of our moment and the eternal. She invites us on a pilgrimage from primeval myth to dreams of paradise--through prairie picnics, temple ruins, across deserts alongside the displaced--into a place where the soul, though troubled, knows all manner of thing shall be well.

--Angeline Schellenberg, Fields of Light and Stone


Tuned to time--ancient, apocalyptic, and current, these poems sing of pilgrimage, from the Exodus wilderness to the Mennonite family road trip, from the refugee's flight to the soul's journey toward faith. Sarah Klassen writes with prophetic clarity as she draws from the rivers of myth, history, literature, and scripture. This is poetry bent on ascension, blazing with light, seeking with grit that tree of life whose roots drink deep from the waters of eternity.

--Carla Funk, Gloryland