And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

fredag 31. august 2012

Under the Greenwood Tree

He went into the garden, beneath the shade
- The Song of Roland, line 11 (translated by Glyn Webster)

During my most recent sojourn in York I spent most of my days meandering the town, seeking out things familiar and new alike. To walk the streets of York, however, can sometimes be somewhat of an ordeal, especially in tourist seasons when stereotypes of all walks of life flock through the street, draining the atmosphere out of the cityscape. At times these hordes must be endured, at time circumstance compelled me to navigate the thronged thoroughfares, dodging the onslaught of half-oblivious strangers trying to find their way through the streetweb. It was, however, wearisome in the long run, especially because tourists very often come off, as if by their own design, as crass, loud, ignorant and careless, standing without awe in the face of history.

It was, therefore, a great delight whenever I could retreat to a quiet corner of one of York's public parks, sit down by the trunk of a tree and read a book, left to myself and the immediate vicinity that for the most part remained empty and relatively quiet. In this blogpost I present two of my favourite spots in York, ideal for quiet contemplation, reading, prayer or perhaps even a little nap.

Resting under a greenwood tree of course becomes all the more pleasing when considering the mythic-historical connotations. In The Song of Roland both Charlemagne and King Marsile are seated under the branches of an old tree when conducting affairs of war and state. This image of the tree of council was prevalent in 19th-century Romanticist art, and the forest - maybe as a symbol of the wild as in Renaissance paintings - featured also in compositions not directly related to kings and warfare. An interesting example is Lawrence Alma-Tameda's 1862 painting of Venantius Fortunatus reading to Queen Radegund.

Sitting under a greenwood tree, therefore, reading a book and watching the world from a quiet tryst is a pleasant activity in itself, but being a historically minded Medievalist the iconography of the past lends an air of ancient venerability to the activity.

Yorkshire Museum and Gardens

Dean's Park

Come hither, come hither, come hither:
Here shall he see
No enemy
But winter and rough weather
- Under the Greenwood Tree, William Shakespeare

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