29/09/2023 - The Tragic Loss of Sycamore Gap
You’re history, said the tree to the wall; the last crumbling remains of empire.
You are the invader, replied the wall.
I am the conqueror, said the tree to the wall; sending platoons of seeds across my territory.
I stand alone, replied the wall.
I chose this valley, said the tree to the wall; stretching my roots under your scored foundations.
I belong here, replied the wall.
I am growing taller, said the tree to the wall; you’re a lonely stone sentry outstripped by a sapling.
I remain, replied the wall.
I am a survivor, said the tree to the wall; I host the resurrection of each turning season.
I endure, replied the wall.
You’re the one they blame, said the tree to the wall; insensate barrier, stone-deaf to the rough bark of liberty.
You cannot know, replied the wall.
Witches are not the only subjects of investigation for Zoe Mitchell in her first collection, Hag ,which appeared in 2018. Folklore and myth allow various approaches to contemporary pastoral, and Mitchell finds new resonance through her own mythological inventions.
The dialogue structure is an ancient one for songs and poems, and Sycamore Gap demonstrates its continuing possibilities. Here, the exchange between the tree and a nearby section of Hadrian’s Wall, representing (at least in the tree’s view) “the last crumbling remains of empire”, points up similarities as well as differences between the speakers.
Sycamore Gap is a real place, near Crag Lough in Northumberland, where a magnificent sycamore tree, several hundred years old, occupies a dip between two hills. Significantly, in the poem it’s the tree rather than the wall which favours a militaristic vocabulary (“empire”, “conqueror”, “territory” etc).
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