Trees have featured in human fables and legends centuries before we thought to put stories on paper, made from those very trees.
Click start to play today’s Crossword and identify one type of tree.
From the withered poplars of the I Ching to the Tree of Jiva and Atman in Vedic scripture, grand old trees have long outlived generations of men and women, so it’s only natural that they take up real estate in our literature. Here are a few famous trees from poems and stories that still capture our imagination:
1. Robert Frost’s maple tree
In his poem, Maple, American poet Robert Frost writes about a mother who names her newborn daughter Maple, and then dies. Maple’s father is unable to understand ‘what she wanted it to mean’. As the child grows up, she must contend with the meaning of her name and why her mother chose it, even though there are no maple trees near her home, and no passed-down memories of her mother visiting maple glades. Her search for the roots (no pun intended) of her name make for an interesting read. At the end of the narrative poem, Frost finally introduces a maple tree in autumn, “alone with smooth arms lifted up, / And every leaf of foliage she’d worn / Laid scarlet and pale pink about her feet.” The poem is about self-reflection and shedding preconceived notions to discover who you truly are, underneath.
2. Yggdrasil from Norse mythology
Although it is an ash tree, Yggdrasil is considered to be the entire universe, in Norse mythology. Its branches reach up into the ether, and under its three principal roots lie Hel, Jotunheim or the land of frost giants, and Earth. The tree is vast and sacred, but you get the notion that it is not completely healthy, from the Prose Edda, an Old Norse textbook written in Iceland during the early 13th century: “Yggdrasil’s ash/great evil suffers, Far more than men do know; The hart bites its top,/its trunk is rotting, And Nithhogg gnaws beneath.” It’s a metaphor that many environmental writers use today to show the interconnectedness of humankind and other species, living in a world where threats to one affect all.
3. Herman Melville’s white pine tree
American novelist Herman Melville’s Moby Dick occurs mostly on sea, where you’re not likely to find any trees, but he takes the time to talk about the ship’s mast – one of three – where the protagonist Ishmael keeps “but sorry guard”. Ishmael is perched high up above the decks of the Pequod, as if on a living tree, but this mast, “cut somewhere on the coast of Japan” is a white pine – one of millions cut down for the navies of Great Britain and the US, and converted to ships, houses and furniture. Ishmael sits high above the crew, looking out for the white whale, hoping he won’t find the dangerous beast that he is supposed to hunt.