Tuesday, October 11, 2016

George MacDonald and the Beech Tree

     This post is for certain young mothers, friends of mine, who have recently sustained great loss.

     Here is a lengthy quote from George MacDonald's fairy tale, Phantastes.  At this point in the story, Anodos has encountered the fairy spirit of a beech tree, who has protected him in the middle of a frightening night in a strange wood:

     She shook her long hair loose over me, never moving her arms.
     "I cannot cut your beautiful hair.  It would be a shame."
     "Not cut my hair!  It will have grown long enough before any is wanted again in this wild forest.  Perhaps  it may never be of any use again -- not till I am a woman."  And she sighed.
     As gently as I could, I cut with a knife a long tress of flowing, dark hair, she hanging her beautiful head over me.  When I had finished, she shuddered and breathed deep, as one does when an acute pain, steadfastly endured, without sign of suffering, is at length relaxed.   She then took the hair and tied it round me, singing a strange sweet song, which I could not understand, but which left in me a feeling like this --
     "I saw thee ne'er before,
     I see thee never more,
     But love, and help, and pain, beautiful one,
     Have made thee mine, till all my years are done."
I cannot put more of it into words. . . . At last I had fallen asleep, for I know nothing more that passed, till I found myself lying under a superb beech tree, in the clear light of the morning, just before sunrise. Around me was a girdle of fresh beech leaves.  Alas!  I brought nothing out of Fairy Land but memories -- memories.  The great boughs of the beech hung drooping around me. . . . I sat a long time, unwilling to go, but my unfinished story urged me on.  I must act and wander.  With the sun well risen, I rose, and put my arms as far as they would reach around the beech tree, and kissed it, and said good-bye.  A trembling went through the leaves, a few of the last drops of the night's rain fell from off them at my feet, and as I walked slowly away, I seemed to hear in a whisper once more the words, "I may love him, I may love him, for he is a man, and I am only a beech tree."


     Much thanks to my friend Oliver, who lent this book to me several years ago, in the expectation that I would someday read it.  Now is the time.