The World Tree (part 1)

Trees feature in many myths and folk tales, in poetry and in our dreams. They offer us images of endurance, longevity, beauty, strength and integrity. They suggest through their grandeur, something beyond our conceiving, a world tree with roots reaching into an undifferentiated past, and branches growing into a boundless heaven. In Christian exegesis from early times, it was suggested that the cross of the Crucifixion was, either literally or metaphorically, made from the wood of the tree of life. This is referred to in George Herbert’s extraordinary but perhaps not entirely successful poem, The Sacrifice. The poem emphasises Christ’s utter solitude, and to me at any rate, the doctrine of the Atonement as a personal responsibility, not only for Christ but for those who follow him. Here are two stanzas from the much longer poem.

Oh, all you who pass by, behold and see;
Man stole the fruit, but I must climb the tree;
The tree of life to all, but only me: 
                        Was ever grief like mine?
Lo, here I hang, charged with a world of sin, 
The greater world of the two; for that came in
By words, but this by sorrow I must win: 
                         Was ever grief like mine?


Another reflection on The World Tree and a poem by Rilke will be the subject of the next post.

Published by davidcookpoet

I am a husband, father and grandfather. I retired from a busy working life as an adult psychiatrist in 2014. My interests are in literature, philosophy, modern jazz and horse racing. I might represent those four fields by Shakespeare, Kant, Charlie Parker and Lester Piggott. Like nearly all of us, I can identify a number of formative experiences, one of which was a psychotic episode in my first year as a psychiatrist. This reinforced an already established interest in mystical experience, and a sense of how little human beings know. My intellectual bugbear is reductive materialism, and I am surprised at the lack of moral imagination of those who promulgate such views. It seems to me they need to consider ,perhaps by exposure, just why totalitarianism is so horrific.

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