Friday, May 10, 2019

the Andelain tree

One of my favorite fantasy authors, Stephen R. Donaldson, wrote about the adventures of a leper from our world named Thomas Covenant, who gets thrown into an alternate universe where he must decide whether the new world he's in is worth defending against its godlike enemy. As Covenant comes to know this other Earth, he begins to fall in love with it, and every leaf and branch of it becomes precious to him—very much worth defending.

Every day as I walk to work, I pass by the lonely cherry tree you see below. While most of the other cherry trees, which exist in groups, have already shed their petals, this little one is holding out, a tiny bulwark against the inevitable onset of the oppressive Korean summer. In my mind, it stands against summer the way an old wizard, frail and mortal, stands against the approach of a hurricane. This tree, Donaldsonian in spirit, didn't get the memo.

The following poem from Donaldson's novels, about the last defense of nature, requires a bit of explanation. The being reciting this poem is a Forestal, a powerful spirit of the woods whose function is the guardianship of forest life: trees, other plants, and forest creatures. This particular Forestal, Caer-Caveral, is also trying his best to hold the beautiful region of Andelain together. Andelain is the heart of the Land, but like the rest of the Land, it is under attack by an invention of the Despiser (a satanic/Sauron-like figure): the Sunbane, a curse that drives the Land's natural cycles into unnatural frenzy, forcing earth and sky into a cruel series of rapid changes: desert, rain, pestilence, fertility, etc.—each phase lasting only a few days, then quickly changing, in random sequence, to a new phase in under a day. The Sunbane, a violation of the natural Law, is ripping the earth apart, and Caer-Caveral knows that even he cannot win against its onslaught. This song, then, is his lament.

Andelain I hold and mold within my fragile spell,
While world's ruin ruins wood and wold.
Sap and bough are grief and grim to me, engrievement fell,
And petals fall without relief.
Astricken by my power's dearth,
I hold the glaive of Law against the Earth.

Andelain I cherish dear within my mortal breast;
And faithful I withhold Despiser's wish.
But faithless is my ache for dreams and slumbering and rest,
And burdens make my courage break.
The Sunbane mocks my best reply,
And all about and in me beauties die.

Andelain! I strive with need and loss, and ascertain
That the Despiser's might can rend and rive.
Each falter of my ancient heart is all the evil's gain;
And it appalls without relent.
I cannot spread my power more,
Though teary visions come of wail and gore.

Oh, Andelain! forgive! For I am doomed to fail this war.
I cannot bear to see you die—and live,
Foredoomed to bitterness and all the gray Despiser's lore.
But while I can I heed the call
Of green and tree; and for their worth,
I hold the glaive of Law against the Earth.

—Stephen R. Donaldson, 1977
The Wounded Land, Chapter 12, "The Andelainian Hills"

We don't live in Stephen R. Donaldson's fantasy realm, but there are motes of beauty here and there that can catch the eye and lift the heart. Like this brave little tree, which holds the glaive of spring against the advent of summer.

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