The Quest of the Marvelous Tree

Currier and Ives

Currier and Ives

Here’s a mystical villanelle written by my father about searching for the perfect Christmas tree. ‘Tis the season for such poems.

The symbol of the evergreen, which comes from northern Europe solstice traditions rather than the Middle East, carries with it the promise of new life in the bleak midwinter. The “Cave with the Wonderful Key/Which only the children know” is both a fertility image and an opening into the world of the imagination. In sailing out into an uncertain sea, the sailors are like children, discovering marvelous new lands.

I catch echoes of Rimbaud’s “Le Bateau Ivre,” Cavafy’s “Ithaka,” and maybe some Derek Walcott and Edward Lear (“The Jumblies,” “The Owl and the Pussycat”) although many of the images escape me. Wherever they came from, they are thoroughly in tune with the magic of Christmas, especially as seen through a child’s eyes.

Quentin Hope, incidentally, was a French professor at Indiana University and a close friend of my father’s. They spent many hours “in lybrarye” searching for literary treasures. For my father, library archive work was like an Easter egg hunt so it makes sense to me that he groups himself with the children entering a cave with a magical key and the sailors discovering exotic new worlds. I suspect this poem grew out of conversations my father had with Quentin, also a first-rate scholar.

The Quest of the Marvelous Tree
                                      –-Christmas card for Quentin

By Scott Bates

On the quest of the marvelous tree
The children ski over the snow
As sailors sail out to sea

Past islands of ginger and tea
Over dolphin hills they go
On the quest of the marvelous tree

So scholars in lybrarye
On greening mastheads flow
As sailors sail out to sea

Past the Islands of Cybele
And the Hills of the Cat and the Crow
On the quest of the marvelous tree

In the Cave with the Wonderful Key
Which only the children know
And sailors who sail out to sea

And scholars like Quentin and me
Who sail on our songs through the snow
On the quest of the marvelous tree
As sailors sail out to sea

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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