“The Apple-Tree, the Singing, and the Gold”

In the Hippolytus of Euripides, matters proceed as the usual unstoppable train-wreck: swiftly at times and slowly at other times; hopeful for a few moments but dreadful mostly.  Goddess makes Queen fall in love with own stepson; Queen tries to shake it off, but fails; humans and deities all clamor about, baffling progress and escalating strife; Queen starts gearing up to do something not only stupid but also evil; Chorus gets a whiff of it and just wishes to get the heck out of there.

Here is Gilbert Murray’s translation of the Chorus as they fantasize escape destinations:  a cave, a cloud, the beach, a riverbank, and then hit on the ideal place: the Garden of the Hesperides, of course.

Could I take me to some cavern for mine hiding,
In the hill-tops where the Sun scarce hath trod;
Or a cloud make the home of mine abiding,
As a bird among the bird-droves of God!
Could I wing me to my rest amid the roar
Of the deep Adriatic on the shore,

Where the waters of Eridanus are clear,
And Phaëthon’s sad sisters by his grave
Weep into the river, and each tear
Gleams, a drop of amber, in the wave.

To the Strand of the Daughters of the Sunset,
The Apple-tree, the singing, and the gold;
Where the Mariner must stay him from his onset,
And the red wave is tranquil as of old;
Yea, beyond that Pillar of the End
That Atlas guarded, would I wend;
Where a voice of living waters never ceaseth
In God’s quiet garden by the sea,
And Earth, the ancient life-giver, increaseth
Joy among the meadows, like a tree.

(The Mariner must stay him from his onset because past Gibraltar is the Atlantic Ocean, where it is rare to sail and survive.)

Men dream of place of rest and escape from strife.  Sometimes they do so to survive, as for example a prisoner in a place of death, closing his eyes for an interior playing of some Beethoven or Brahms, of which he knows every note because he performed in the symphony orchestra before his arrest.

Sometimes they do so to keep up their own courage as they act as they can within the strife to fight the bad guys. Hippolytus came up in the course of Rosemary Sutcliff’s Eagle of the Ninth trilogy of young-adult historical novels, of which I was reading the second while comfortably tucked into my electric lap robe the other day.  In The Silver Branch, Allectus has murdered Carausius, Emperor of Britain in the 290s, and usurped his throne.  Legionaries and former legionaries and their friends who disapprove of the murder form a covert network to smuggle men over to Gaul to join the ranks of Constantius there.  The leader of this network keeps an apple tree, the best little apple-tree in all Britain, in his closed courtyard, to remind him of the place, or the existence, of rest and peace.  He will not enjoy either until justice is reestablished, so he continues with his work.  He hides a couple of young soldiers in his attic and lends them his copy of Hippolytus to read, so that they can dream of the apple-tree, the singing, and the gold.

But then there are those who think of this place as an escape from responsibility.  Galsworthy, in The Apple Tree, conjured up a character who used an innocent young woman that way on a trip through the countryside.  The grander-scale utopians conceive an idea for public policy, call it good, urge everyone to support it, and care not how many bodies they have to trample in order to make their way toward it.  Every day these people are in the news.  The Garden has different guises: a Green New Deal, Medicare for All, a World Without Countries, the Family of New York.  But I doubt that the people urging their countrymen to such places truly believe the places exist.  It is more likely that most of them see human problems and react in one, or both, of two ways. Either they figure out a con game by which to profit from the strife, or they just make noise about their Garden in order to avoid their responsibility actually to try to assist the people whom they see are having trouble.  That being the case, as I think it is, it is a grave error in public discourse to cede to them a single atom of benevolent intent.

Here is Gilbert Murray (1866-1957) – bless his heart.  If you decide you need to read one of the plays, go for one of his translations, I say.  He will give you beauty.

Here is Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-1992) who as a child invalid found her Garden of the Hesperides in the history and literature of the Classical West and of England.  She found, and she made for us, beauty and joy and hope.

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5 thoughts on ““The Apple-Tree, the Singing, and the Gold””

  1. Beautiful, especially the line you chose for your title!  It reminded me of Rosetti’s  poem:

    “My heart is like a singing bird/Whose nest is in a watered shoot,/ My heart is like an apple tree/Whose boughs are hung with thick-set fruit,/ My heart is like a rainbow shell/That paddles in a  halcyon sea/ My heart is gladder  than all these/ Because my love is  come to me!”

    s

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  2. Hypatia:
    Beautiful, especially the line you chose for your title!  It reminded me of Rosetti’s  poem

    Thank you for pointing me to that poem.  I wonder if anyone has set it to music.

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  3. .”..Whose boughs are bent  with thick-set fruit…”   I clicked on your link to make sure I hadn’t mangled the poem too much when I typed it from memory.  But look how much better bent  is than hung. Bent,  (in addition to the alliteration )makes you see the arc of the tree branches heavy with their apples!  O, to be a poet!

    Thanks again for a beautiful post!

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  4. Hypatia:

    .”..Whose boughs are bent  with thick-set fruit…”   I clicked on your link to make sure I hadn’t mangled the poem too much when I typed it from memory.

    I wish I had anything like your memory!

     But look how much better bent  is than hung. Bent,  (in addition to the alliteration )makes you see the arc of the tree branches heavy with their apples!  O, to be a poet!

    Now see what you made me do?  When I hear about bent wood I think of an archer’s bow.  I checked out the origins of bough and bow.  They are the same, meaning arm, through the Germanics all the way back to the Sanskrit.  When heavy with fruit, the bough bends like a bow.

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  5. jzdro:

    Hypatia:

    .”..Whose boughs are bent  with thick-set fruit…”   I clicked on your link to make sure I hadn’t mangled the poem too much when I typed it from memory.

    I wish I had anything like your memory!

     But look how much better bent  is than hung. Bent,  (in addition to the alliteration )makes you see the arc of the tree branches heavy with their apples!  O, to be a poet!

    Now see what you made me do?  When I hear about bent wood I think of an archer’s bow.  I checked out the origins of bough and bow.  They are the same, meaning arm, through the Germanics all the way back to the Sanskrit.  When heavy with fruit, the bough bends like a bow.

    Ooooh, that gave me the shivers!  I love this kinda thing: only connect!

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