Tales from the woods
The splendor of the festive season has still not abated. The mass
media all over the country, the print, the sound and the visual,
emphasize the value of the nature and its impact on humans as well as on
other living creatures. Learned people talk on matters pertaining to the
preservation of trees and the herbal life. Some others lay emphasis on
longevity as a result of this awareness put into practice.
I have received a graceful present from my son this new year. The
book is titled ‘Tales from the Woods’ written by an English
environmentalist Felix Dennis. Perhaps this is a familiar name with the
avid readers of the international book scene. But this special gift came
to me by surprise. I was fascinated by the collection of poems embedded.
Having read once I pondered over the contents and experiences of the
poet Dennis. I went on once again to read from selected pages and
realized matters of the herbal life full of its virtues longevity to
humans and other factors common to the Orient.
But here was yet another Occidental standpoint, considering the need
to honour mother nature in the fullest sense of the term. But there are
similarities when it comes to nature. For example it is sad to observe
how the trees are felled and the animals are tortured instead of
retaining their lives in the best of harmony possible as taught down the
centuries. The message is passed down the centuries by the religious
The farming and agrarian cultural aspects too lay emphasis on matters
pertaining to the restoration of the environment as the best form of a
happy and healthy life. This in short is the central message
disseminated by the revival of the season of New Year. While the younger
ones gift the elders with cloths, food and money, the elders too in
exchange give way to their gifts. I had the chance of accepting this
brilliant long lasting present from one of my sons who came from England
to stay for a few weeks with us. He, as a lover of nature, may have felt
he should share his bliss of reading the book with me.
So then this is an ideal gift for the season. The author Dennis is a
modern English poet, who had come to limelight not as a literary figure
but more as a tree planter. with a keen sense of his subject being the
love of nature the trees, birds, meadows, woods and generally all those
aspects that cover the subject.
Perhaps a reader may feel that I am outdated in my reading trends as
the poet Dennis is now quite known to those who keep a track of the
latest developments in modern literature. He is hailed as the 21st
century Kipling by some critics and I am not sure of the comparison. But
reading the numerous poems, I found that he reminds me of two great
poets namely, Robert Frost (‘Road not Taken and Stopping by the Woods on
a Snowy Evening) and Walt Whitman (Leaves of Grass). The main purpose of
creating these poems from the point of view of the poet Dennis is to
create an insight to the restoration of trees from human disasters to
love trees and generally all that cover nature.
There is one serious poem which intermixes the fusion of the human
and the nature dramatically presented in the following poem which I read
several times to evaluate the sensitivity of the embedded experience.
The poem goes as follows:
Place a mirror by a tree
‘Place a mirror by a tree
Tell me now what do you see?
Which of you will feed the earth?
Which of you contains more worth?
Which of you with sheltering arm
Keeps a thousand things from harm?
Which of you is nature’s bane?
Which is Abel? and which is Cain?
Which of you is God’s delight?
Which of you is a parasite?
Place a mirror by a tree:
Tell me now -- what do you see?’
On the surface layer of the lines there is just a tale of a tree and
a mirror. But beneath which is a symbolic meaning embedded which is far
more serious. The symbolic layer envelops such aspects as cultural and
religious susceptibilities and questions the validity of one’s life. Who
is superior? The tree or the image of the man as shown in the mirror?
The poems of Dennis are packed with mini tales; one the general level of
expression. But he imagines that the nature has many a discourse with
the nature lovers.
The foreword written to the collection of these poems by Pauline
Buchanan Black, the Director General of the Tree Council, is indeed a
fitting tribute to the poetic skills of Felix Dennis. Two of the eye
opening sentences in the forward goes as follows: ‘By his own admission
Felix Dennis is a tree planter – he plants over 100,000 native broadleaf
saplings each year. The man clearly has poetry in his soul because only
someone who sees beauty in trees as a poet does would be inspired to
proliferate such beauty for the rest of us to enjoy.’ While this is the
forward, Dennis himself has quite a lot to say about his own creative
process. When the reader enjoys the poems and comes to the end of the
collection there is a note on the poems. This looks more like an
independent series of jottings from the pen of a sensitive creator.
These jottings are in response to some of his own readings of his
poetry. He says that his poems had come to be written as a result of his
own inner compulsion. He notes the following:
‘I began writing poetry, unexpectedly in September 1999, while
recovering from a life threatening illness. I was then in my early
fifties –pretty late as these things go. One reviewer has observed that
I write ‘like a man obsessed’, perhaps I am subconsciously attempting to
make up for lost time. I attempt to write at least three hours a day on
the basis of Mark Twain’s dictum, that most inspiration comes from the
application of the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair’, and
constantly makes notes, having discovered that if a promising line or
subject arrives in my head, I must reduce it to writing immediately.’
This sense of his honesty is observable in his creative works. One
remarkable point is that he reads his poems like some of his
predecessors like Frost and Whitman. If I am not mistaken most Oriental
poets like to read their poems to an audience or even a small gathering.
This presumably is an age old literary tradition.
Tagore did it and Gibran did the same. But in this modern world
Dennis can afford to insert a CD (some readings of his poems) in his
book as an additional gift for the reader. His poetic creations are
simple and straightforward and does not contain any high flown
ambiguities and ideologies. The central message is the request to go
back to the nature and try one’s best self to perceive what it
This may not sound anything strange to us in the Orient. But the
point is that he tries to drive in is that one needs not be romantic or
go back to romanticism as a rediscovery in the literary history. Dennis
has a better standpoint where he observes the beauty of the nature and
its living condition which should not be polluted by human hands. He
sees the birds like owls rooks and eagles.
Then he is seen plucking cherries and other fruits as softly as
possible. On another occasion, he makes himself a self discoverer in the
abandoned woods. In his imaginary world he sees how strangers have come
to claim the woods as their inheritance not with the intention of
sensitively feeling in the pulse but merely for monetary gains. He makes
the reader feel that he is traversing the paths of the woods with him.
This collection of poems is well designed and well illustrated, a
remarkable factor in the modern publishing trends.