Dec 27, 2010

The tragic tree is the magic tree

I have not been privileged to handle mistletoe, but I know it is a sacred & magical plant. This piece honors it and makes me consider what's dying & growing in the season. Enjoy!

Planting Mistletoe

Let the old tree be the gold tree;
Hand up the silver seed:
Let the hoary tree be the glory tree,
To shine out at need,
At mirth-time, at dearth-time,
Gold bough and milky bead.

For the root's failing and the shoot's failing;
Soon it will bloom no more.
The growth's arrested, the yaffle's nested
Deep in its hollow core:
Over the grasses thinly passes 
The shade so dark before.

Save a few sprigs of the new twigs,
If any such you find:
Don't lose them, but use them,
Keeping a good kind
To be rooting and fruiting
When this is old and blind.

So the tragic tree is the magic tree,
Running the whole range
Of growing and blowing
And suffering change:
Then buying, by dying,
The wonderful and strange.

~Ruth Pitter


  1. It's a nice poem, but I cannot understand why it is called 'Planting' mistletoe. Because mistletoe is not planted. Mistletoe does not grow in ground.

    Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that grows high up in oaks trees and apple trees.

    I have tried to grow mistletoe on several occasions. It is very difficult. Normally the berries have to be 'stuck' onto the boughs of oak or apple trees, and take their chance.

    This is my favourite mistletoe painting. It shows a Druid surrounded by Druid priestesses, cutting the mistletoe from the sacred oak:

  2. I guess you could say that birds plant the mistletoe in a tree.
    It only grows in places that have a neutral to alkaline soil though,
    even though the host tree itself may grow in acidic soil.

  3. Neat! Ruth Pitter was a traditional poet, buddies with C.S. Lewis. I'm sure she was aware of the growing habits of mistletoe, so maybe the title is ironic. She just went nuts with the internal rhyme, didn't she? I love it.

  4. I don't know why and never could get anyone to explain it..but I have this aversion to mistletoe..creeps me out..don't like touching it..and the idea of kissing under it really creeps me out..
    thanks for stopping by and saying howdy..