Friday, November 21, 2014


Talking Trees

Thanks very much to Karl Maurer for permission to print what follows.

Prince Charles is often mocked for believing that trees can communicate with one another (see e.g. Charles Booth, 'What kind of King will Charles III be?' in The Guardian for 19 Nov. 2014); but scientists have recently verified the fact (see e.g.; and it will not come as any surprise to poets, especially Latin poets. For example:

CLAUDIAN, Epithalamium 65-8 (quoted by Jacob Balde in his Interpretatio Somnii, p. 60):
vivunt in Venerem frondes omnisque vicissim
felix arbor amat: nutant ad mutua palmae
foedera; populeo suspirat populus ictu,
Et platani platanis, alnoque assilibat alnus.

The leaves but live for love; each happy tree
loves its own kind: a palm nods at another,
a poplar sighs, love-smitten for a poplar;
plane-trees to plane-trees, alder to alder whispers.
CASIMIR SARBIEWSKI, Epode 1.127 ff. (the 'maestae aves' are turtledoves and nightingales):
Quaecumque maestae vocibus dicunt aves,
    Respondet argutum nemus.
Affatur alnum quercus, ornum populus,
    Affatur ilex ilicem,                130
Et se vicissim collocuta redditis
    Arbusta solantur sonis.

And to whatever sounds the sad birds sing
    the shapely grove responds.
Oak speaks to alder, poplar to the ash,
    a holm-oak to a holm-oak,
and in responsive whispered conversations
    orchards console themselves.
JACOB BALDE, Lyrica 3.45.37 ff. (echoing Claudian and Sarbiewski):
                              ... Clarius interim
Ventis loquuntur flantibus arbores.
    Quercum salutat prona quercus,
        Contiguam soror alnus alnum.

                               ... Meanwhile brightlier,
as the winds blow, the trees speak: a steep oak
    salutes an oak; an alder,
        a nearby sister alder.
As for plants communing with humans, I suppose that science has not yet 'discovered' this; but of course poetry has; e.g. famously in Horace's enchanting description of Orpheus at c. 1.12.7-12. That is echoed by Balde in Lyr. 2.20.29-40; and I will end with this, because it also describes the 'marriages' among plants, with which I began:
At non et arbor nulla canentibus
Demittit aureis. Vidi ego sibilo
    Crispante ramos, colla ramos
        Flectere, et alloquio moveri.                10
Sentit Poëtas mitius arborum
Genus, sacri non immemor Orphei.
    Agnoscit ex illo Camoenas
        Nutibus, et foliorum acuto
Susurrat imbri. connubialia                15
Vidi Lyaeum tendere brachia:
    Vitesque desponsas, ad ulmum
        Viminibus viduam ligari.

And there are even trees that prick their ears
at singers. I have seen boughs curl, and hiss,
    and bend their necks, excited
    at being spoken to.
The race of trees thinks tenderly of Poets.
They all remember sacred Orpheus.
    When they hear verse they nod
    and sigh, or make a noise
like hissing rain. I have seen Bacchus stretching
a husband's arms; seen vine-sprays, all betrothed,
    clinging tight by their tendrils
    to the unmarried elm-tree.

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