Rocks and Trees are all of me … grass and dew are all of you. If you’re not familiar with the song, perhaps stream it here on my site from the Big Idea playlist. The song is written by my friends, Tom Knowlton and Mark Baldwin (both of the former Children’s TV show, “Camp Caribou”). Rocks and Trees is a super-fun song to teach to a large group of people because there are three very different, independent parts that fit together to make a beautiful whole. Folks who may not have ever had the experience of singing in a choir get the beautiful feeling of being in the middle of a lovely flow of music.
Rocks & Trees
Rocks and trees are all of me. Rocks and trees are all of me.
Grass and dew are all of you. Grass and dew are all of you.
This is the middle of the song. It helps the others get along.
Just like the stem between the flowers and the roots
you know that this is the middle of the song.
Quickly lift you up and let your senses turn to green
Wander ‘till you die, you will be there and so will I.
A “simple” kids song, right?? I guess I’d never thought much about the lyrics in all the years I’ve known the song. I just enjoyed singing it and inviting others to join me in song. All that changed in Cuba … Before leaving on my trip to Cuba with the Canada-Cuba Literary Alliance (CCLA), I was invited to have some of my poems and song lyrics translated to the Spanish for performing in Cuba. I chose to have Rocks & Trees translated.
Our Cuban host, Manuel de J. Velázquez León, the hugely generous and truly wise moral educator in Holguin and Vice-President of the CCLA, did the translation of Rocks & Trees for me. During our time in Cuba, I was able to offer a World Premiere of Rocks in Trees at the University in Holguin sung in both English and Spanish. Cynthia Mitchell taught and sang the Spanish lyrics to the group while I taught the English. It was a beautiful occasion.
Later that day, Manuel spoke to me saying he needed to correct some of his translations after hearing the song, not only to improve the cadence and flow of the words, but also to better reflect its meaning. Manuel said to me,
Singing your song, I realized my translation is not quite right. Metric for songs are very different in the two languages. I made some changes, we tried the song and now it works. However, now I wonder about the actual meaning of the song. To me, this song is in line with the common theme of much 19th Century poetry: that we are part of nature; when we die we go back to nature, and so forth.
If this is the case, the first line of the poem, with a somewhat unusual grammar, might mean either that “rocks and trees come out of me” or that “all I am is rocks and trees, all you are is grass and dew”, which would mean more or less the same, rather than “rocks and trees are mine”, as the initial translation suggested. This idea of belonging to nature, of returning there without fear is, to my view, more plainly expressed in the last two lines of the song. This is a great song for kids, Gary, simple and profound like all true art. Let me know what you think before I try a final version in Spanish.
So there you have it. A trip to Cuba. A beautiful, little song offered playfully and with love in Spanish becomes an opportunity to explore language and meaning, philosophy and ecology and our lives here on this spinning bluegreen planet. Thank you Manuel and thank you to the teachers and educators and children of Cuba who taught me much about the spirit of sharing a song. After all,
All I am is rocks and trees. All you are is grass and dew …
Rocas y árboles
Rocas y árboles míos son. Rocas y árboles míos son.
Yerba y rocío tuyos son. Yerba y rocío tuyos son.
Es la mitad de la canción. Ayuda a otros a seguir.
Como está el tronco entre flores y raíz lo sabes bien.
Es la mitad de la canción.
Elévate y déjate reverdecer
Anda hasta el final, allí estarás, y yo también.