07 October 2012

Forests of the Medieval World

Forests of the Medieval World

                    by Don Coles

Forests of the medieval world, that's
where the mind will wander
the three dissertation years, lucky girl --
Forest of Bleu, which crowded around
the walls of Paris and stretched 10,000 leagues
in every direction' the great Hercynian forest
of East Prussia, from which each year
334 drovers bore the logs for the fires
in the Grand Duke's castles of Rostock,
of Danzig, and furthest east of all, buarding
the borders towards the Polish marshes,
Greifswald and Wolgast. I'm so sad
I could die, you said as you left, but
my children, how could I bear it --
and I know, I know there are ways
of losing children, of seeing them stray off
among the trees even now, especially now!
Every fleet needed for its construction
the razing of an entire forest --
lost forests meeting on the tilting hills
of the Caspian, the Baltic, the Black Sea,
over the mountains of water the file of forests
comes. You face is a mobile mischief,
do you know? Your eyes mocked before
they entreated, your lips rendered
both comedy and its dark twin
in microseconds, and your tongue
harried my mouth's bays and inlets.
The Oberförstmeister of Kurland promised
the King 'at least half-fabulous' beasts
for the hunt, his forest measured
140,000 arpents and even on the swiftest mounts
horsemen could not traverse it
in a month. My mind runs fast
down its arpents and heavy corridors,
seeing no one, I should slash
tree-trunks to procure my safe return
but I can't stop. My mind is running
on pure grief and pure love, I want you
to know this. The Forest of Othe
was so still you could hear a shadow
cross a face at 60 leagues distance --
it had linked the Lyons Massif with
the Woods of Gisors but after a hurricane
levelled a million trees in 1519 the diligent
peasants moved in with ploughs and those forests
were never reunited. And
the forests of Finland, have you thought of those?
All the way to Archangel and the White Sea?
They can show you how you were
before these excuses. What can you do
about this, your exigent look said
in the dorway, I am going do you realise
I am going? And that both of us will survive this?
When the Swedes needed cash they cut down
the forests of Pomerania, the result in
many cases is sand-dunes. This for day-trippers
is nice, in your rented Strandkorb there is room
for everybody, also for dressing and undressing
when the beach is crowded. In the forests of Morois
Tristan lies with Iseult, they are waiting
for the King her husband who will tell history
they were only sleeping. In
the Black Forest dwarf trees and greenheart
still flourish -- as for the Rominter Heide
it was so huge that most of its lakes
and forests were 'held in reserve',
not listed or even mentioned, so for generations
all that those lakes and forests could do was
grow uncontrollably in the imagination. I
would take you with me into the Rominter Heide
if you would come; there
each child we must not hurt will
wear a rose in sign of her ardent, forbearing
heart, in sign of his calm-eyed ascent through
our extreme, necessary years.

From the London Review of Books, 10 August 1990.

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