(The Irish Ossianic Song of the Forest Trees is to be found in Standish O’ Grady’s translation in Eleanor Hull’s Poem Book of the Gael is a listing of trees to be found on Dartmoor. Fortunately, the whole text of Poem Book of the Gael (1913) is on-line at the Internet Archive here.)
SONG OF THE FOREST TREES
O MAN that for Fergus of the feasts dost kindle fire,
Whether afloat or ashore burn not the king of woods.
Monarch of Innisfail’s forests the woodbine is, whom none may hold captive ;
No feeble sovereign’s effort is it to hug all tough trees in his embrace.
The pliant woodbine if thou burn, wailings for misfortune will abound,
Dire extremity at weapons’ points or drowning in great waves will follow.
Burn not the precious apple-tree of spreading and low-sweeping bough ;
Tree ever decked in bloom of white, against whose fair head all men put forth the hand.
The surly blackthorn is a wanderer, a wood that the artificer burns not ;
Throughout his body, though it be scanty, birds in their flocks warble.
The noble willow burn not, a tree sacred to poems ;
Within his bloom bees are a-sucking, all love the little cage.
The graceful tree with the berries, the wizard’s tree, the rowan, burn ;
But spare the limber tree ; burn not the slender hazel.
Dark is the colour of the ash ; timber that makes the wheels to go ;
Rods he furnishes for horsemen’s hands, his form turns battle into flight.
Tenterhook among woods the spiteful briar is, burn him that is so keen and green ;
He cuts, he flays the foot, him that would advance he forcibly drags backward.
Fiercest heat-giver of all timber is green oak, from him none may escape unhurt ;
By partiality for him the head is set on aching, and by his acrid embers the eye is made sore.
Alder, very battle-witch of all woods, tree that is hottest in the fight
Undoubtedly burn at thy discretion both the alder and whitethorn.
Holly, burn it green ; holly, burn it dry ; Of all trees whatsoever the critically best is holly.
Elder that hath tough bark, tree that in truth hurts sore;
Him that furnishes horses to the armies from the sidh burn so that he be charred.
The birch as well, if he be laid low, promises abiding fortune ;
Burn up most sure and certainly the stalks that bear the constant pods.
Suffer, if it so please thee, the russet aspen to come head-long down ;
Burn, be it late or early, the tree with the palsied branch.
Patriarch of long-lasting woods is the yew, sacred to feasts, as is well-known ;
Of him now build ye dark-red vats of goodly size.
Ferdedh, thou faithful one, wouldst thou but do my behest :
To thy soul as to thy body, O man, ‘twould work advantage.
There are several versions of this, a partial listing includes:
- Robin Williamson on the album A Glint at the Kindling
- Golden Bough on the album Winter’s Dance as “Logs to Burn”
- It is listed in Robert Graves’ The White Goddess
- also in Paul Huson’s Mastering Witchcraft
- and the “traditional” Dartmoor verse itself may be found at “Logs of the Moor”
to Song of the Forest Trees from Poem Book of the Gael:
” The Lay of the Forest Trees.” (sic) Original in Silva Gadelica, i. p. 245 ; trans., ii. p. 278. This curious poem, which contains much folk-lore regarding forest-trees, arose out of the gathering of wood for a fire in the open
air, by a servant or “Man of Smoke,” as he is called. He accidentally threw upon it a block around which woodbine had twined. This called forth a protest from the onlookers, who declared that the burning of the woodbine would certainly bring ill-luck.