Fathers of Botany – Fossil Trees of Lesbos

Image: Courtesy of Dimitris Yeros

DEREK TURNER is editor of The Brazen Head, and a novelist and reviewer, who writes for journals including Country Life and the Irish Times. His first non-fiction book, Edge of England: Landfall in Lincolnshire, was published in 2022 (Hurst)

Fathers of Botany – Fossil Trees of Greece

“We were searching to rediscover the first seed

So the ancient drama could begin again.” (George Seferis)

Tree from Titanic time, chlorophyll from Chronos –

A plant to make the Iliad feel young;

Older than Achaea, bough from Europe’s birth,

Corinthian column from anonymous earth.

Cell-structure chthonic, bark architectonic,

First saplings convert light for all lungs;

Dawns before dinosaurs, green deaths in deep glades

That shivered before any islands were made.

Steles sway in dead winds, mark skies meteoric –

Ossified weathers striated in stumps –

Hold in their heartwood earth’s earliest mysteries,

The comets and climates that changed before histories.

Rock sounds of ages and petrified tracks –

Trees shooting endless in verdant triumphs,

Creatures of ancient wing, instinct with sap and spring,

Once stood on these redwoods’ spread rooftops to sing.

Sang songs of the spheres, remote, melancholic,

Strange songs for lost woods in an alien tongue –

Harmoniously unify heavens and world

As seeds from stone cones let Creation unfurl.

Then day cataclysmic: deep doom from first physics:

Drums beating, bass booms as world structure unslung,

Ashfalls before Hades, heats pre-Hephaestus,

Flames black out the birds, stones alter the atlas.     


Metamorphosis – an ageless land’s axis,

New architect orders for the new world just sprung –

Stump of the sacred grove, and pillar of Zeus –

Shoots for the Stagirite, seeds Theophrastus.

Human analogies bud bright philosophic:

Trees rise, carry crowns, then return to the dung.

Though statues, they sow evergreenness from roots;  

Even now that they’re dead, we climb them for truths.