Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"The Forest Woman's Monlogue"

[Hi folks: for your Tuesday enjoyment, a poem by Eberle.  She composed this as part of the prologue to an upcoming production of the Second Shepherds’ Play, for which she’s also composing the music.  The Forest Woman is based on a character in the movie Sorceress (Le moine et la sorcière).]

The Forest Woman’s Monologue

Soon the nights will be warmer
and soon the owls will leave this valley.
They always leave when the Moon
is in her waning and the Eldertree in flower.
That’s when I must be ready to pick the elderflowers
For they won’t wait.

When the owls leave and the nights are warmer
That’s when the fever comes to the valley
And when it leaves we are fewer,
there are always mothers mourning the hollow place
within their arms where a child once slept. 
I must be ready to pick the elderflowers
when they froth open in the moonlight of her waning
when the dew falls warm and heavy
I’ll fill my cauldron to the brim with their whitening blooms
For they save lives.

The priest looks at me sideways when I pass his door at night
on my way to the grove of the Eldertree – such a tree!
Her arms hold generations of us
in the moonlit hollows where her branches curve,
and in the dark where her roots cradle the earth
moistening among the worms and beetles.
The priest lets me go about my work because he has seen
the flower potion heal, and because he too grieves
When children die.

The priest has asked me how
I can have converse with the Eldertree -
for he has no mother and children with him
through the night and so his nights are occupied
with fears of demons and their many forms
leaping and prancing in the moonlight.
He asks me how the tree appears to me,
do I hear voices, he asks, how do I know
the meaning of the tree?
I point to the little black marks
in the sacred book he carries and ask how these
speak to him – does he hear voices? Do they take form?
How does he know their meaning?

He holds the book up, but doesn’t offer it to me,
he says: “This is the Word of God.”

I tell him that the tree is also the Word of God -
how else would the healing flowers bloom
just when the nights grow warmer and the owls
leave the valley, just when the warm dews
settle on the ponds and the fever comes?

But I don’t have time to tell him more,
the Moon is in her waning and the tiny pale fists
of the elderflowers open to her, one by one.
I must go now, to the grove and pick them
For they won’t wait.

Eberle Umbach
© 2010


  1. Very nice! Eberle sounds she's very attuned to the inherent spirituality of nature.

  2. Hi Raquelle: Yes, that's definitely true. Thanks!

  3. Excellent - right in the tradition but speaking with its own voice too.

    I've directed the Shepherds' Plays in various contexts several times - with and without music - and have found new resonances within the rich folk idioms on each occasion. So many sackcloth Shakespeares have come and gone within the folk drama tradition! I shall read of how the production went with great interest. Go well, Eberle!

  4. Dear Raquelle,
    thanks for writing! Over the past few years, several projects have taken shape with a loosely-knit group of women who share an interest in "ecology" as "dwelling place." We are mixed as far as religion goes - from Catholic to Buddhist, ecofeminist to atheist, but all of us share a longing to express the (sacred?)connections that we experience or observe in nature. I've learned a lot and I wish you could come play with us too.

  5. Not to detract from this being YOUR poem, Eberle, but I identify with it so much - the questioning of conventional faiths as opposed to a symbiosis with nature. I LOVE the use of froth as a verb and the owl and the Eldertree. Just beautiful!


  6. Dick,
    how cool that you've directed this play! I'm glad you like the monologue, especially given your own experience. I love your mention of "rich folk idiom" - what I'm hoping with the music is to create settings that can be nuanced from earthy folk song to angelic choir and still retain musical coherence...should be interesting.
    Thanks for writing!

  7. Dearest Kat! thanks for your response - it makes me happy that you feel a resonance with this, because I like your poetry so much. (I actually didn't think of this as a poem when I was writing it - that might have made me feel nervy - but you're right, it is a monologue in poem-form.)

    Symbiosis is a great word for what I usually call connection in/with nature. I spent a lovely day with the woman who's directing this Mystery play, making Holy Cards that took as a center a natural creation (of any kind, from leaf to cat to mountain) we had a personal relationship with, and building a network of images around it. We thought of these as sacred cards - she had good success doing these with her high school class and calling them symbolic cards.

    You might really like "Le moine et la sorciere" - the director asked me to watch this film and then write a monologue based on the central character, the "Woman of the Forest" -she and another woman character, a young artist who is mute, are able to persuade, with the local curate, a heresy-seeking priest who visits their village that a saint can be authentically revered in animal form...it's beautiful.

    I've been thinking of you often and wishing you the best!

  8. My great aunt (who was a nun for many years) used to make these wall-hangings with images of the Blessed Virgin surrounded by crinoline netting in a sort of solar-halo and with a lovely satiny ribbon to hang them. I had one in my bedroom as a child, for many years. (I thought of this with your reference to Holy Cards.) I also remember my father collected many cards with prayers and memorials to people in his life and I still have some of them.

    I'd be interested to see the film of which you speak and even more keen to see the play you're all working on. Can someone film part of it and put it on this blog?

    I think of you often too and pray you are well and content.


  9. I like the Forest Woman because she is an observant woman of action...not just words

    Beautiful, Eberle

  10. Dear Kat,
    your great-aunt's artwork sounds completely delightful - especially the crinoline solar-halo - wow. I've started meeting weekly with a small group of women for silent prayer/chant/art-craft and it's so calming and inspiring - in October we made collages in relation to St. Isadore, the saint of farming, and while we were doing this, the idea came up to make a group collage in relation to the Blessed Mother next - everyone there but me is an experienced sewer, and I think if we stitched a wall hanging together instead, the results could be interesting - at least to us!

    Your idea of a video of the play, or part of it, on RFB is a good one. We'll see what we can do.

    Thanks for your prayers, you are in mine as well- Peace -

  11. Dear Rene,
    thanks for writing, and I really like your description of the Forest Woman - it's right on. Her observations, her words, her work, and her actions are all connected, all feed each other. She's a role model for me this way!

    Her actions are powerful, I think, because of this connection. I read recently some words of Emily Dickinson in a letter to her most intimate friend about being careful not to neglect power - it comes between the Kingdom and the Glory, she wrote, because it is wilder than either.

    I'm still thinking about this...

  12. What a treat! This is a beautiful piece, Eberle. Just as an aside, I love how Eldertree and Eberle rhyme.

  13. And when it leaves we are fewer,
    there are always mothers mourning the hollow place
    within their arms where a child once slept.
    I must be ready to pick the elderflowers
    when they froth open in the moonlight of her waning


    And I like the image of the mother's cradling arms, along with the tree's cradling arms.

  14. Dear Willow,
    thanks so much - and I hadn't noticed that rhyme at all - wow, that's a good one!

    Dear HKatz,
    I really appreciate your comment and I'm glad you like these images. The elder trees here are definite seasonal punctuation, with their flowers marking the beginning of summer and their fruit the end. The elder tree in the movie that inspired this monologue was wider and more gnarled than any I've ever seen - it was the tree of the village, and had always been there - when people were troubled, they went there, and the tree was where they held religious processions as well. The tree that is the central tree of our place here is a cottonwood - it releases awesome waves of "cotton" right as the columbines are blooming and the cotton gets into everything - but I like this. Thanks again!


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