A and I are just back from Italy and exploring around Lago Maggiore. Where we stayed in Mergozzo next to the Lake, there is an ancient Elm tree that has occupied a central location in the village square and at the heart of the community for over five hundred years.
In Macugnana, just below the Monte Rosa Massif, we discovered an old lime tree that was already a hundred years old when the 13th century church, with a grave yard filled with the much more recently interred, was built next to it. Both trees seemed to represent for the human communities that have grown up around them, like children around a benign grandparent, a sense of place, of being rooted between sky and earth in time and space across the cycles of seasonal growth and decay, birth and death.
For My 50th birthday I received from my brother 'The New Sylva. A discourse of Forest and Orchard Trees for the Twenty-First Century' by Gabriel Hemery and illustrated with Sarah Simblet's wonderfully expressive and precise pen and ink line drawings, some of which we saw last August, in the art and anatomy workshop at the Ruskin.
In Rilke's poemes francais, this is how the walnut tree lives and commands attention. Here, again around the lone tree, which is the centre of the world, the dome of the sky becomes round, in accordance with the rule of cosmic poetry. On p. 169 of this collection we read:
Abre toujours au milieu
De tout ce qui L'entoure
Abre qui savoure
La voute des cieux
( Tree always in the centre
Of all that surrounds it
Tree feasting upon
Heaven's great dome)
Needless to say, all the poet sees is a tree in a meadow; he is not thinking of a legendary Yggdrasill that would command the entire cosmos, uniting heaven and earth, within itself. But the imagination of round being follows its own law: since as the poet says, the walnut tree is "proudly rounded", it can feast upon " heaven's great dome." The world is round around the round being.
The swallows or hirondelles, who return each year to their nests in Mergozzo, gave wonderful daily performances of syncopated rhythmic diving and swooping over the lake.