Mother of the Woods

It is most taxing at the start
at her splayed footing
Tennyson’s serpent roots, where
on tip toe, the boy reaches upward

straining for the lowest branch
then heaves, his shoe slipping
in a treacherous toehold
abrasions from silvered bark.

With altitude lightness comes
limbs grow supple, vigour
suffuses, boldness surges
and his head grows giddy.

She’s a compendium of mischief
priapic totems scored, hearts
impaled on libidinous bodkins
initials, profane effronteries

decades marked and numbered
territorial claims, contested
with slap-down and slander
lesions healed by creeping tissue.

Higher he clambers; a cleft here
a knot there, while all around
Ceridwen’s larder, still sealed
ripens, foretelling autumn’s harvest.

Where the trunk begins to taper
that’s his hermit cell, a confinement
of translucent green, gauzy light
modulating loudness and calm.

He pauses, ponders on Ogma’s tract
words on a tablet, verso and recto
raising the grain, transmuting wisdom
from latent to substantial.

until, at the crown, his swaying lookout
the hissing breeze caresses his skin
like fingertips, bringing notifications
from all the beech trees in England.

Then the call, a reluctant descent
through ages, to the lowest branch
limber fulcrum, a mother’s hand
gentling him back to earth.


16 thoughts on “Mother of the Woods

  1. This is wonderful, Julian. There are so many incredible lines, I can’t begin to say which I like best. Your use of words to create beautiful imagery is amazing. I imagine this is based on your own memories of climbing trees: a climb of discoveryand fantasy combined. Memory plays such a huge part in our writing and you use it to perfection.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How very kind you are, Millie!

      Almost all my writing is based on memory, especially these Needwood Poems, which are firmly rooted in the part of the world where I grew up, and yes, this is a real beech which was in the grounds of my school – sadly now out of bounds due to the health and safety tyranny that we live under these days.

      I suppose I’m mainly a teller of stories rather than a dreamer-up thereof.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, Julian, your true life stories/poems are filled with historical and mythological references that give them a rare quality – and make them so vivid. I’m so glad I found your blog. As for H&S regulations nowadays, they’ve taken all the fun out of things. (I’m pouting now.) Even pplayiong conkers in the playground is a thing of the past. In our day, playtimes and lunch times were such fun. I can’t say we ever had a tree to climb at my primary school, though.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This is the longest I have taken to reply to one of your poems and it’s because it was, for me, one of the most complex. It is so rich in imagery that I spent a while reading around the moment you have created. I wanted to find the right time to explore it and enjoy it and I only recently returned to it a few nights ago (even though it’s been open in a tab for many months). This poem is incredibly powerful and I think you share a remarkable moment with the reader in which we are asked to evoke and call upon a range of mythologies which mean as much to you as they probably did to Tennyson.

    The image of a young boy stretching with all his will for the first branch of the Mother birch is wonderful. You capture the desire and the element of risk beautifully. The abrasions mean nothing to the boy whose eyes and mind lie upon the prize of reaching the dizzy heights of what lies within the sheltering maze of bark and branch above. He clambers over her, explores her, digs his nails, heels and mind into her to try and uncover her secret sights. In turn, she rewards him. I thought that was captured beautifully in the boy’s giddiness. Yes, he is high up, but for me the giddiness also reflects his accomplishments and the rewards he knows are to come for the choices he has made in climbing into her welcome arms.

    As he climbs, he finds himself surrounded by the ripe womb that store’s the fruits of the tree’s labour. Is this perhaps, in reference to Ceridwen, where the seeds of your own poetic inspiration lie? Is this a moment in the past in which you found your muse? Are you our own Taliesin? As the youth caresses the bark do Ogma’s words course through his veins just as their rhythm courses through the lifeblood of the Mother of the Wood?

    This is sublime, Julian: a love letter to the world which stokes your poetic fire. I took great pleasure in the long journey I took in reading this and was brought, once more, to the time and world which much of my childhood was spent and all of my inspiration stems from.


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