Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Nature's Revenge for Arboricide

The Lorax by Dr. Seuss is the most famous children's book that touches on the theme of arboricide. Ian Jackson has drawn my attention to a lesser known children's book on the same subject — The Wood That Came Back, written and illustrated by Clare Leighton (London: Ivor Nicholson & Watson, 1934). Leighton's book is unavailable to me, but I did find images of some of its 32 pages, which I reproduce here:

In case some browsers don't render these images clearly, here is a transcription of the text:
Once upon a time there was a man who wanted to build himself a house. So he looked about and he saw a lovely little round hill with a beautiful wood on top.

"That's just the place," he said. "I will cut down that wood and build my house there."

So he began to cut down the trees. And as he cut, the birds flew away from the sound of his axe and the squirrels leapt from the trembling trees and the flowers shook with fear.

All the living things who had been chased from the wood held a large meeting. Everyone was present, from the fox and the woodpecker down to the spider and the ant. They decided to chase the man and his wife from the house.

"If we do our best," said the spotted caterpillar, "I'm sure we shall be successful."

Rabbits and squirrels came in and ate up all their food, so that they had nothing to eat.

Worst of all, their clothes were always covered with ants and beetles and caterpillars and moths.
I don't know how the book ends, but presumably the wood somehow came back.

This reminds me of Robert Fergusson's poem, The Bugs, lines 21-46, in which insects infest a town after a nearby forest is cut down.

There is also an interesting poem by German-American author Konrad Nies (1861-1921), titled Die Rache der Wälder, in which trees beg Nature to punish man for arboricide.

The German text with facing translation (titled Revenge of the Forest Primeval) by Christoph Lohmann can be found in The Multilingual Anthology of American Literature: A Reader of Original Texts with English Translations, edd. Marc Shell and Werner Sollors (New York: New York University Press, 2000), pp. 379-383, with introduction by Regine Wieder on pp. 377-379 and notes on pp. 717-718. Here is a sample (lines 41-44):
Their houses and cities and every town,
Each dwelling of timber that bears our name,
Tear down, ye storms, tear down!
Ye fires, consume them with terrible flame!

Was immer gezimmert aus unserm Gebein,
Der Städte Getürm und Gemäuer,
Reiss es ein, du, o Sturm, reiss es ein, reiss ein!
Verzehre in Flamme es Feuer!
Nies' poem was written for a poetry competition held on April 21, 1904. See C.O. Schoenrich, "Das erste Dichterfest in Amerika. Die Baltimorer Blumenspiele, abgehalten am 21. April 1904," Pädagogische Monatshefte 5.6 (May 1904) 187-189. Nies' poem won prizes in the "Deutschentum" and "Balladen und Novellen" categories.

The German text appeared in the Fraktur script in Georg von Bosse, Das deutsche Element in der Vereinigten Staaten (New York: E. Steiger, 1908), pp. 434-435 (with a photograph of Nies facing p. 433), and in the Roman script in Max Heinrici, ed., Das Buch der Deutschen im Amerika. Hrsg. unter den Auspicien des Deutsch-Amerikanuschen National-Bundes (Philadelphia: Walther's Buchdruckerei, 1909), p. 406 (where it is attributed to Konrad Niess [sic]). See also Regine Wieder, “Konrad Nies Rediscovered,” Yearbook of German-American Studies 34 (1999) 141–152.


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