lördag 30 november 2013

Béla Hamvas: Trees (translation by Peter Sherwood, Editio M, Budapest)

The tree is told about in Swedish lyrics and prose. Per Helge has published a whole book about a single tree. Lennart Sjögren has written a poem about a tree on Per Helges yard. Björn Berglunds new book is entitled Mama in the woods and Kerstin Ekmans voluminous catalogue of Swedish nature and culture is entitled The Masters of the Wood. Anne-Marie Berglunds collection of poems, I want to be a tree now, says: “I must be a tree now. I will broke down if I am not allowed to be a tree now”, and “Of course the wood remains. It´s us that is embezzled”

In the landscape where I live, Scania, there is a sharp border between south and north. In the north the woods of “Göinge” begins, the woods of freedom, the woods of the former partisans who fought the Swedes. These woods is crossing the borders of the landscape of Småland, where they are extended. The tree has an obvious role in my life. Mythological and concrete as the two big birch-trees outside my window of the study. Without those trees the blue sky would only have been an empty side-scene without any connection to my fantasy. But with the play of the sunlight between the branches of the birches the blue background becomes an inhabited world, a world of elements interacting.

When I read Béla Hamvas beautiful little collection of essays, translated to English, Trees, I am struck by the same unusual feeling as I had reading John Berger, an insight that the relation to the individual tree in nature could be personified, as if that tree with its characteristics could have had a soul, and thereby had a direct and personal relation to the viewer.
John Berger could say, that a tree looked back at him, when he watched it. That kind of stillness, that kind of presence, is very unusual outside the urban room in our days. Because of that I step back to this scripts by the Hungarian writer Béla Hamvas.
”The great pathos of trees is their great ecstasy. This is the undulating swell of their brim-fullness, their subconscious pulsation, their suffering of the swell, their warm, black velvet snake embrace. They do what life, this fever, does with them; but more: this is no mere fever, it is not an increase in something that is already there; it is a decrease. Something cooler, more deliquescent, more quiet, more simple, less demanding, more satisfying and more enduring.”

What will I emphasise when I read these lines – that both contains warmth and cold, pathos and endurance? What strikes me first is that Hamvas language always contains its own dialectics. The poetic beauty is embedded in the affirmation of the contradictions, the opposite poles, because they could be both objective and subjectively human. Hamvas say on one hand that there is ecstasy in the trees, and on the other hand that they are “less demanding”. The pendulum goes forth and back and the language includes both the subconscious pulse and the acceptance of what life itself does to them, the trees. Do I forget that he talks about the trees? Then I go to the black velvet snake embrace. Is it the Garden of Eden we are visiting? If there is no answer to such a question I am contented with the fact that all trees, all families and kinds, is a paradise reflection of something forgotten, something in a long distance passed that we have to re-create – not at least as memory and image. Because that´s the way Hamvas looks upon trees:

”It is in unceasing contact with its nutriment. Its growth is unceasing. It is nourished but the earth. The tree ingests the earth, reaching even more deeply into its soil. Yet the tree is no parasite.”

The tree stands where it stands. It´s impossible for it to stand somewhere else. It grows where it was planted. In that sense the tree is the opposite of mankind, and also her bad consciousness. Modern man does everything possible to cut of the belonging to the earth. The place is no longer her fundament, it´s the breaking up, the departure, the travelling. Her restless wondering puts her in instant contradiction to the tree, who´s non-parasiting system of roots is one with earth, offers it:

”the chance to make a gift of itself. The binding tie is mutual: the roots drill deep into the soil for gain, while the earth draw the roots into itself, so that it may give.”

Hamvas makes the image of the tree and man clear at the same time. Because of her being rootless  and restless mankind is very much a parasite. Her exploitation of the earth is in strong contradiction to the mutual on-spot-existence of the tree. In her rootless life man is burning all the fossil fuels behind her, in her belief that she never will see what it means. But as flood-waves and hurricanes the past is confronting her. The tree, the one which has been livening in a mutual system with earth, is swept away at the same time mankinds restless life is evident. Or as Anne-Marie Berglund said: “Of course the wood remains. It´s us that is embezzled”

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