Sunday, 31 March 2013

The Suicidal Tree

Trees have feelings. Back in 1644 on this day, army deserter Phillip Greensmith was strung up on a elm  tree at Coton-in-the-Elms, near Burton upon Trent in Staffordshire. The elm was so mortified by this misuse of its branches that it either decided to end it all, or went into terminal shock. From that day, its leaves and leaves began to wither, and within a year it was dead.
This is very much in keeping with the traditional personality of the elm. It is said that if you cut one down, a neighbouring elm will die of grief. Such a sentimental species proved an easy target for Dutch elm disease.
It is said that ' the elm and the vine do so naturally entwine'. Shakespeare alludes to the notion in The Comedy of Errors, in which Adriana says to her husband Antipholus of Syracuse:

Thou art an elm, my husband, I am a vine
Whose weakness married to thy stronger state
Makes me with thy strength to communicate.

The elm not only has deep-rooted emotions: it is also an arbiter of quality. The old maxims ' A good elm never grew on bad land' and 'Good elm, good barley' reveal its status as a crp and field guide. And how did the barley-grower cope when there was no handy, leafy, elm around for reference?

When the elmen leaf's big as a mouse's ear,
Then to sow barley never fear;
When the elmen's leaf's big as an ox's eye,
Then says I, ' Hie, boys, hie!'

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