Alphabet of Trees

Here we are the morning after Earth Day with a new moon in the earthy sign of Taurus, the sacred bull of Baal. Or the protective milk producing mother of calves, if you prefer. The prompt for Day 23 of NaPoWrMo wants us to write a poem about a particular letter of the alphabet. But how to choose? How could I play favourites? I thought: What would Emily advise? And she replied: Tell it slant. So, in the spirit of Earth Day it occurred to say it with trees. To celebrate Earth Day I took my exercise down our lane and around our acre, admiring the trees – the blossom on the blackthorn, the uncurling of leaves, the still tight bud that should be hawthorn blossom in another week or so, and the varying colours, sheen and texture of bark.

Ancient Ireland had an alphabet based on trees known as the ogham (say that like the meditative OM, the g is silent.) The alphabet remains. How exactly it was used is shrouded in Iron Age mists. There are stones with it carved into the rock. So…ripe for poetric license.

Alphabet of Trees

Semiphore flags - the leaves -
the alphabet of trees long ago etched
in standing stone. Ogham.
Its survival a mystery of seed,
trunk, limb, right up to
leafy canopy clammer of things
to signify.

My name could be a combination
of straight birch, white fir and witch elder.
My clan's surname is a snaking fence
woven of multiple willow withies.
Gorse in full flower is an exclamation.
Add the white thorn's flower 
and you have springtime's yell hallow.

Time is holly, yew, vine and poplar -
prickly, ancient, tenacious, 
also flexible to the way the wind blows.

Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020, All rights reserved.

yew tree ogham tree alphabet
Hugging an ancient yew tree in Armagh’s Palace Gardens many years ago

6 thoughts on “Alphabet of Trees

  1. I’m thoroughly charmed by this post–the write-up about Dickinson and the sign of Taurus (I was born in late April), the beautiful photos, and the poem, which is a breath of fresh air. I’m sure that no matter what we think or say, the trees must have thought–and said it–first. Thank you to introducing me to the ogham. I’ll never forget it. 💜

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am really graftified at the response my tree alphabet has received. I have used it as a creative writing ‘spark’ with school age kids, while also getting in som natural history teaching at the same time.

      Liked by 1 person

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