. . . by the same poet. It really brings out the magnificence of the Georgian countryside!
The Withered Beech
Everyone loves the high mountains adorned with verdure and flowers. So do I. I love the scent of spring, the green grass that, getting the better of the thawing ice, comes up fresh and un¬scathed. It gazes at the sun, at all the world; it lies low, it lies still, yet its delicate and languid countenance beams with such ineffable tender¬ness: it seems to be murmuring,- I have come back to life! Glory to my Creator! - ¬
How wonderful it is to see the frozen trees, warmed by the spring air, unfurl their leaves or break into blossom. And what can compare with the gloomy, dense, dark depth of the forest!...
But now all that is far from me, and only a solitary withered beech rises before my mind's eye. He stands in the heart of a thick forest, on the top of a crag. Velvety green moss covers the crag. The other trees keep aloof from the withered beech, they seem to shun him deliberately and look upon him haughtily.
Around the withered beech, several raspberry shrubs have grown, their leaves nibbled by roe and deer. Their trailing branches hang over the crag and peer into the river below.
Among the roots of the old beech tree some liquorice plants grow, their notched leaves green, summer and winter alike. There seems to be no breath of life in the withered beech: only two or three branches, no more, still remain on the lower part of the trunk; the upper part is broken off and has plunged crashing into the gorge. Only one of the three branches puts out two or three leaves a year, and even these are faded, withered and yellow. But look at the other trees: they stand laden with the wealth Nature has lavish¬ed upon them. They despise the withered beech, they take no notice of him; when they, too, are stripped of their bridal robes and look almost dry, resembling the withered beech, they steal a glance at him… This happens when the full-faced, luminous spirit of the place, her hair streaming loose, comforts Na¬ture with a tale of love, purity and life. Then the trees grumble at the withered beech:
- Why do you stand there staring, you miserable wretch? Listen to what the spirit is saying!
The withered beech heaves a deep sigh and remains deaf to whatever those haughty trees may say; as he listens to the tale of the spirit of the place, every word stabs him to the heart like a knife, and he sheds secret tears.
Poor beech! There was a time when he also stood proud and mighty, and towered above all the other trees, making a vault over the whole forest with his great limbs and foliage. The eagle, sailing majestically down from the mountains into the valley, would settle in the crown of the beech and utter his haughty cry. But now the beech is about to collapse, like one at his last gasp. Here and there the dry bark has peeled off his trunk, showing bare sides. In one place, a long strip has come off, trailing down to the ground. One might think they had stabbed him with a dagger and disembowelled him. There must be many worms in that beech too: whenever I pass, I always see a woodpecker perched on him. There she sits, a plague on her, rapping at the tree with might and main, with that accursed and confounded bill of hers. She screeches, shrieks as if full of malicious joy. In several places she has pecked the beech to the very core, now she is about to start pecking at its heart. But the beech stands unperturbed, his brow unruffled, uttering neither an evil word, nor a good one.
When the wind blows, the other trees sway; only the withered beech never stirs, although formerly, when he was strong and brim¬ming with life, he surged like the sea at every blast. His boughs and leaves would raise a thunderous uproar. There was a time when his branches proudly struck and lashed the ground, but now he cannot wrestle with the wind like other trees, he can no longer boldly expose his breast to the tempest. He will never bend; but should he break, what's to be done?... He may break and crash down, falling sideways; his roots will show, upraised as if in prayer, imploring the Lord, appealing for help.
In summer the withered beech looks even more pathetic: the other trees in their green foliage stand hale and hearty and care¬free. Thousands of birds alight on their branches to sing. The ring¬doves coo, the yellowhammer bursts into a never-ending carol the bustling rock-bunting hops from twig to twig, filling the fo¬rest with her, trills. The roe and deer with their lovely heads thrown back shelter under their shade. Those trees, proud of their thick foliage, look down upon the unhappy withered beech. They disdain him.
- You only spoil everything here - they say.
How should they know that the withered beech is much more frequently spoken about than they are that there are people who like and even love the grief-stricken withered beech…? In the village he is mentioned at least three times a day. If a father asks his children, - Where did you graze the cattle today? - they will say it was round about the withered beech; or a rumour will spread through the village:
- In the rocks below the withered beech, a leopardess has made her den and has whelped. -
- Around the withered beech, the hunters have seen the tracks of the leopardess and her whelps -¬
- I cut this tinder-fungus from the withered beech, - another will say.
Yes, those foolish trees do not know that men have not yet forgot ten the withered beech, they still remember his former glory.
Why despise a creature withered,
A poor thing whose strength is ebbing?
One who’s gone is often greater
Than a thousand of the living.
When I see you so dejected,
Standing lonely, wasted, chilled
And by all your kind neglected,
Then my soul with grief is filled,
Then I seem to hear the tolling
Of funereal doleful bells.
I’ll impart to you the sorrow
The so long within me dwells,
And the flood of tears that’s rolling
Down my cheeks – of anguish tells.
Why did you come into this world
If there is none to mourn your death?
For you there’s neither Heaven nor Hell,
No one will hear your dying breath.
Who’ll lay you in your lonely grave?
Who’ll light for you the taper’s flame?
How hard it is to die and know
That none will live to bear your name.
At night, once in a while, an owl will perch in his branches and, in a despairing voice, will utter her heartbroken cry:
-Found it? Found it? – And when, fatigued by her own cries, she hears in reply – Not yet, not yet! – She mournfully hangs down her head and hoots low to herself.
In winter a wolf haunts the place; he stands hunched up near the withered beech and howls, tortured by hunger. The withered beech stands unperturbed, uttering neither compassion nor hatred; neither friendly nor hostile feeling burn in his heart; the withered beech broods over himself, over his past, present and future; sorrow seems to have eaten deep into his heart. Now and then he gazes down at a tiny shoot that has sprung from one his roots; the shoot is only waiting for the sun and rain, and then it will grow. This is the only comfort of the withered beech.