Tuesday, March 19, 2013
The Silence of the Trees
Work started on the site almost at once, and at the end of the year Hardy himself planted an infant forest around the site, mostly beech trees and Austrian pines, to provide shelter from the wind as they grew. He had never planted trees before, as far as we know, but either he knew instinctively how to set about it or he sought expert advice. Two years later, when he described Giles Winterborne and Marty South at work in The Woodlanders, he was able to draw on his own experience:Claudia FitzHerbert, "The House that Hardy built," The Telegraph (April 8, 2011):
Winterborne's fingers were endowed with a gentle conjurer's touch in spreading the roots of each little tree, resulting in a sort of caress, under which delicate fibres all laid themselves out in their proper directions for growth...Giles plants skilfully, but it is only Marty who notices the sighing of the newly set trees. Hardy must have heard it when he planted his. He became their protector and would never have them lopped back or cut down, even if they grew into dense thickets. He spoke of 'wounding' them and refused to curtail the 'soft musical breathing' he had initiated and given Marty to appreciate.5 His trees were silenced only after his death, when his widow had most of them cut down.
'How they sigh directly we put 'em upright, though while they are lying down they don't sigh at all,' said Marty.
'Do they?' said Giles. 'I've never noticed it.'
She erected one of the young pines into its hole, and held up her finger; the soft musical breathing instantly set in, which was not to cease night or day till the grown tree should be felled — probably long after the two planters should be felled themselves.
'It seems to me,' the girl continued, 'as if they sigh because are very sorry to begin life in earnest — just as we be.'
5. The Woodlanders, Chapter 8. He also wrote a poem, 'The Pine Planters (Marty South's Reveries)', printed in Time's Laughingstocks and Other Verses. Marty goes further here and makes the trees' sighing signify grief that they have not remained undeveloped seeds, safe from storm and drought.
Little has survived of the forest of Austrian pines which Hardy planted against the winds of the nearby heath and the prying eyes of passers by. During the poet’s lifetime these progressively shaded the house — "I set every tree in my June time. And now they obscure the sky" — but many were cut down by the second Mrs Hardy in the interval between his death and hers nine years later.Hat tip: Eric Thomson.
Related post: Forest Murmurs.