Fraxinus excelsior, the ash tree, the World-Tree, Yggdrasil, ‘Venus of the Forest’ may soon have disappeared from the British landscape. Ash dieback, Chalara, a fungal disease that has already killed ash trees across Europe is spreading rapidly across Britain.
Here is the poet Edward Thomas writing on the ash in Autumn, a sight we may have seen for the last time:
“As the sun rose I watched a proud ash tree shedding its leaves after a night of frost. It let them go by threes and tens and twenties; very rarely, with little intervals, only one at a time; once or twice a hundred in one flight.
Leaflet – for they fall by leaflets – and stalk twirled through the windless air as if they would have liked to fall not quite so rapidly as their companions to that brown and shining and oblivious carpet below. A gentle wind arose from the north and the leaves all went sloping in larger companies to the ground – falling, falling, whispering as they joined the fallen, they fell for a longer time than a poppy spends in opening and shedding its husk in June.
But soon only two leaves were left vibrating. In a little while they also, both together, made the leap, twinkling for a short space and then shadowed and lastly bright and silent on the grass. Then the tree stood entirely bereaved and without a voice, in the silver light of the morning that was still young, and wrote once more its grief in complicated scribble upon a sky of intolerably lustrous pearl. “
Himself killed in the 1st World War, Edward Thomas here seems to be echoing the fall of those dying in battle.
According to the 13th century Icelandic Edda
“The ash Yggdrasill endures anguish,
more than men know.
A hart gnaws it on high, it rots at the side,
While Niohoggr devours it below.”
Let us hope that the predictions of Norse mythology of the end of the world with the death of the world-tree do not come true.