Friday, August 2, 2013

The Hollow Tree: Bowie, Glück, & Bly

On any given day or in any given week, I am usually reading 4 or 5 books, to say nothing of the many I randomly consult. At the same time, music is the soundtrack of my life: I am listening whenever I can. 

So, the many connections that pop up between books and music find there way into these posts, most frequently on The Sunday Service, but often in other, less focused posts. 

Lately, I've been listening to David Bowie's fantastic new album, The Next Day, somewhat compulsively. Also, I've been preparing for some poetry meetings this fall related to my day job, one of which is a discussion of the work of Louise Glück. Here is a haunting poem by her I ran across during my preparations:

All Hallows by Louise Glück

Even now this landscape is assembling.
The hills darken. The oxen
Sleep in their blue yoke,
The fields having been
Picked clean, the sheaves
Bound evenly and piled at the roadside
Among cinquefoil, as the toothed moon rises:

This is the barrenness
Of harvest or pestilence
And the wife leaning out the window
With her hand extended, as in payment,
And the seeds
Distinct, gold, calling
Come here
Come here, little one

And the soul creeps out of the tree.

During my many listenings to the new Bowie, after discovering the Glück poem, suddenly the lines in the chorus of the title song jumped out at me.


The Next Day by David Bowie

"Look into my eyes", he tells her
"I’m gonna say goodbye", he says, yeah
"Do not cry", she begs of him goodbye, yeah
All that day she thinks of his love, yeah

They whip him through the streets and alleys there
The gormless and the baying crowd right there
They can’t get enough of that doomsday song
They can’t get enough of it all


"Listen to the whores", he tells her
He fashions paper sculptures of them
Then drags them to the river‘s bank in the cart
Their soggy paper bodies wash ashore in the dark
And the priest stiff in hate now demanding fun begin
Of his women dressed as men for the pleasure of that priest

Here I am, not quite dying
My body left to rot in a hollow tree
Its branches throwing shadows on the gallows for me
And the next day,
And the next,
And another day

Ignoring the pain of their particular diseases
They chase him through the alleys chase him down the steps
They haul him through the mud and they chant for his death
And drag him to the feet of the purple headed priest

First they give you everything that you want
Then they take back everything that you have
They live upon their feet and they die upon their knees
They can work with satan while they dress like the saints
They know god exists for the devil told them so
They scream my name aloud down into the well below

Here I am, not quite dying
My body left to rot in a hollow tree
Its' branches throwing shadows on the gallows for me
And the next day,
And the next,
And another day.

While musing on the idea of the related imagery (the hollow tree & the soul in the tree) of Glück and Bowie and thinking what I might make of it in passing here, I started to read Robert Bly's This Tree Will Be Here for a Thousand Years (which I'll have more to say about in a later post). 

And, of course, what did I run across but this, the first verse to his poem "Women We Love Whom We Never See Again:"

There are women we love whom we never see again.
They are chestnuts shining in the rain.
Moths hatched in winter disappear behind books.
Sometimes when you put your hand into a hollow tree
you touch the dark places between the stars.

So, I pulled up: there it is, three pieces that reference a hollow tree (two directly, one, perhaps, allusively), a shared image from something like the collective unconscious. I haven't quite got my mind around this, it may just be too large for that type of feat for me (though one can find citations for heroes hiding in hollow trees, children being found in hollow trees, king's escaping pursuit in hollow trees, all in Stith-Thompson's Motif-Index of Folk-Literature), but I do feel, in some ways, that the image is seeking me out. 

Either that or I certainly am paying better attention than usual. 

Or maybe, in my selection of materials, I am seeking out the hollow tree? It has something to say, doesn't it?

What might it be? 

What might it be?

Source: on Wikicommons


Photo by Onnola

 "Take a shortcut though me!"
the willow
translated by David G. Lanoue


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Go to the LitRock web site for a list of all 171 songs


Rehn said...

Great post!

Anonymous said...

Gluck & Bowie, a not uninteresting confluence, of three, one always to be found at Issa's Untidy Hut. thanks & salutations, Don, Donna

Constance said...

Might it be a portal on offer for you?

Mary Frederick Ahearn said...

Sometimes there's honey in the hollow tree-
There are times when the connections are everywhere, other times obscure, unnoticed. It just seems to be whatever way the day goes,

old pajamas said...

Dream in the First Third of Night

Trapped in the tree outside my room
is the dream I had last night.
It flew before me as I rose
and blew out through the narrow bit
of screen before I had the window shut.

I can't remember what it meant but
it was globed and lighted, blue.
When it caught inside the adamant
arms of winter birch, it pulsed,
expanded all the way and froze.

I love it there: it startles sunlight,
turns the cold to shine and
rounds the wind back on itself.
Like everything that's breathless,
it can't be gotten to.

Nancy Fitz-Hugh Meneely -

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Thank you, Rehn, glad you liked it.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Donna, cheers ... glad that there are things to ponder.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Constance ...

Several people have suggested this and it is intriguing. What is also interesting to me is the urge to share the image ... and how so many folks, too, are attracted.


Issa's Untidy Hut said...


What is in the tree ... sometimes hiding, sometimes secreted there.

Then there is the spirit of the tree, of nature, itself, personified in myth, or, if we look close, right there in real life.

Thanks for another, sweet (ahem) angle.


Issa's Untidy Hut said...

old pajamas

Thanks for sharing this lovely poem, which I didn't know. The tree trapping the dream ... like a blue plastic bag in the breeze, or something more deliberate ...

Sinister or no ...


Ed Baker said...

I'm tellin' yugh... Glück " s title of her book
The House on Marshland and the
(what is it?) a wood-block print


then POWO!

that first stanza &

"at the road side"

rather than "by"..
then the precisely poet-treed

"Among cinquefoil, as the toothed moon rises:"

not=ice the colon !

now revisiting those masterful Balthus landscapes and reading his Vanished Splendors....

same vision of ?

Lyle Daggett said...

Many years ago (October 1984) I traveled on the west coast with a poet friend for several days, and we spent the better part of one day going through the redwoods in northern California.

My friend explained that when lightning strikes a living redwood tree, usually the tree survives -- what commonly happens is that the top of the tree is knocked off by the lightning, and then the lightning grounds itself through the tree trunk, and blasts a hollowed-out space at the bottom of the tree, at ground level. So that there's an opening at the base of the tree with an open space inside.

Redwood trees are, as you know, large. At one point as we traveled through the redwoods, we stopped by a tree that had such a hollowed opening at its base, and we stepped through the opening into the hollowed space. The opening was large enough to step through easily, and the hollowed space was large enough for the two of us to stand in together side by side.

I found that the redwoods had a deeply relaxing effect on me. Standing inside the tree, in particular, affected me that way. Many times over the years since, when I've been in the middle of some ridiculous piece of business (often connected with whatever day job I had at the time), I've found myself going back to that hollow tree redwood moment, and it helps give me grounding. I'll think of the vast calm patience that such a living creature as a redwood embodies, and I'll say to myself, "The redwood trees don't care about any of this silly nonsense." I've gotten through more than one rough day with the help of the redwood trees.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

As always, Ed, the interesting connections spark ... thanks for the reminder of Balthus ... and the mercurial mind ...

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Thanks for the note on grounding ... "that hollow tree redwood moment" - it seems we are always bringing our attention back to the moment ... a moment, in the moment.

How many have stood within and, perhaps, not connected at all.

Here is a photo from inside ...