Psalm 148 (Free Verse)

Praise the Lord from the heavens
Be cosmic bread, leaven of glory,
All seven spheres tune ears to hear what the moon and sun
Have begun to sing in the star-deep sea of the sky.
Let firmaments, assured of enduring,
Remember the commands and decrees
Of the Lord who ceded them their high boundary.
And then tip-top over, to the downward plunge,
Back to the sea, that roaring mirror of the skies,
Leviathan, still unhooked, bows his heads with their fiery eyes;
All, to the last glittering drop of minnow, those flashing haiku,
Sing of a king.
Weather storms and dashes out the dance meter,
Vaulted clouds pour out, roar out
The praise of hail and sled-snow and chain-lightning
And the fire’s glow.
Earth, green womb, mankind’s tomb, takes up the chorus
Among the harvest,
And in the forest, smallest to largest,
From the oaks to the apples, from cricket to cattle,
Dappled birds winging, singing,
Cry to the king,
Men and their armies, judges, rulers, wise men, prodigals, fools,
Lovers in harmony bow the knee
Only to the Lord.
Glorious is He!
Exalting his horn, night to dawn,
Saints who praise, beloved of him, bosom-close, bounty-laden, all!
Remember, then render
Praise.

Root, Sidewalk

This pavement sidewalk is cracked and creaking,
Bowing before the blows of a subterranean rebellion
That the tree roots fight
Against the bands and belts and cords of concrete
That bind this city.
As I trip and stumble over the battlefield,
The stub of my toes mimics, for a moment,
The slow motion war
That has been taking place for years, quietly
Even dignifiedly,
Below the blurry forms of passing pedestrians.
This tree is patient.
It will defeat the sidewalk,
Long after, I, in my hurried way,
Have recorded the fact
In a few hurried, broken words.

The Wicked Man

A man walked on the lonely heath,
And winter’s bones were white.
The black crow call floated pale
In the chilling evening light.
But all that stirred in the northern wind
Were the lonely leaves of winter.

The mist unrolled on the wild moor,
And silence seized the air.
The white mist swirled around the man,
And trickled through his hair.
And all that stirred in the northern wind
Were two thin hands that weren’t there.

Slowly, slowly, wisping white,
They drifted round his throat,
And brushed there with a touch as light
As ash on water floats.
He screamed: and stirred the northern wind,
In terror, cold, remote.

But as he turned, a chill north wind
Shivered its way through the snow
And all he saw on the lonely heath
Were the lonely leaves of winter.

Tolkien’s Trees: Part 1

This is the first part of an essay I wrote for a class. (For Parts 2 and 3, click here and here.) It involved a lot of original research, I think. Meaning that while there may be scholars out there who have commented on this sort of, after long and diligent searching, I could find none. So I had to make my own conclusions, which I hope you (the reader) find compelling.
Enjoy!
(Notes on reading this: Start at the top and work your way to the bottom.)

Almost everyone who reads Tolkien picks up on the fact that Tolkien has borrowed elements of Norse tradition. It is easy to recognize the Vikings in the Rohirrim, and the names of Gandalf, and all the dwarves from The Hobbit are easily northern. But the true depth of Tolkien’s indebtedness to Norse mythology is often left unsounded. To illustrate this priciple, I will take the case of trees in Tolkien’s literature. Tolkien’s use of trees and tree imagery was heavily influenced by the Norse legend of the tree of Ygdrasil.

In Tolkien’s literature, trees form an important part of the narrative. In the Lord of the Rings, we start almost immediately with a description of Bilbo and Frodo’s birthday party, which of course is set up under the marvelous Party tree, a center for the hobbits’ festivities. It is this tree that forms a center for the hobbits, and as such, is a metaphor for their community bond. Sam does not cry at the destruction Saruman has wrought in the Shire until he comes over the last hill and sees that the Party Tree is gone. It is this tree that symbolizes the hobbits’ community. This is why it is so important that the tree gets replanted, just like another tree that we see in the Lord of Rings. In the white city, the high and noble fortress of Minas Tirith, we see a withered tree, dead and barren amid the stony and silent city. It is this tree that Pippin has a vision of, seeing it burn under the anticipated attack on Minas Tirith by the armies of Sauron. This tree also is a symbol of community – and it is dead. When the king’s line failed, the dry leadership of the stewards took over, and the tree which had been fruitful became barren. It is only when a lone man comes out of the wilds where he had been hidden that a new tree begins to bud, hidden away on a shielded mountain slope above Minas Tirith. The tree mirrors the community’s state. The tree called Old Man Willow, in Tom Bombadil’s neck of the woods, is the face of the evil that permeates the uneasy wood on the Shire’s borders, a rebellious evil that must be put down by an Ainur. All these tree images use the same pattern of identification that the Norse used with their tree Ygdrasil. Ygdrasil represented the existence of all things, the community of the world. Ygdrasil was the ultimate bond between all things: a world-tree. Because of this, each of these trees owes something to the world-tree of the Teutons.

Autumn Thoughts

The trees around me are the Rolands of winter.
They know how to go –
Not complaining even remotely,
But accepting the challenge of their defeater
And rising to meet the blow
With yellows and reds and orange
And dappled browns.
Their glory is shed like confetti.
I listen to the leafs shouting under my steps.
They sound like they’re rejoicing.
They can take the time to be beautiful because they can remember dying before.
I can remember dying before.
It involved drowning, and disappearing sins
And a glad heart
And a glad life
And joy in the face of the nothing
That will never happen to me.

Sechelt, Part1

(This post and the following two are an essay I wrote for a writing class, consisting essentially of creative sketches on a common theme: a place called Sechelt, where I lived as a child.)

Woods

Before we moved to the States, our family lived on the Sunshine coast of Canada, in Sechelt. The delightfully open spaces that rolled over those mountain shores were always fenced by dense woods. Down a short and wide road that dead-ended our street, there was abrupt wilderness, boundless, untamed brambly thickets and tall cedars. To my sister and I, she nine years, I seven, we had never seen a place with less boundaries or more beauty. In some places there are barriers between the city and the wild, palisades to separate people from the surrounding nature. But not here. Here the woods loomed over the asphalt in a living arboreal culdesac, clustered against the open. If we went down one of the secretive trails that wound through the clustered brush and trees, it felt as though we were going back-stage in some grand, elaborate theater, leaving the suburban civilization façade behind. Down one trail we found an old car, swallowed up by brambles, as if the woods had caught some careless driver idling too close to the forest, and dragged the hapless vehicle away to digest into rust, broken glass and crumbling rubber tires. Down another we found a set of short cliffs, perched over a tiny plain of wind-tossed ribbons of grass. Through one imposing cliff we found a mysterious hole, seemingly randomly bored straight down through the center of solid rock. We dropped a pebble down and never heard the click at the bottom.

Once, in that culdesac of trees, we found a young owl, confused and dazzled by the daylight. We looked at it; it looked back. Figuring that this was the chance of a lifetime, we set upon an experiment: to see if owl heads really could turn all the way around. One of us shook our fingers close to its beak, and then when it had noticed them, moved them around behind it. Not dismayed in the least by this turn of events (pardon the pun), it swiveled its fluffy cranium to look straight behind itself. It gave up once it got to about three quarters of a full turn. We wanted to keep it, but according to the government, owls are “endangered”: we left it out in the open, hoping that those wild woods would take it back to where it came from.

Even the trees in our back yard were arranged in a crazed and tangled circle, as if they were forming a wild treeish cult in the middle of all the civilization around them. But then my sister and I would sit inside the ring, shaded from the sun and parental eyes, able to build our sky castles in the privacy of our own world. The trees must have shivered when we built a fort of dead cedar next to them: cedar taken from the forests, tamed, stripped, shaped to make the sturdiest tree-fort ever heard of.