Brendina Algiacomo, Ph.D.
Folklore and Fairytales (MS602)
July 6, 1997
The Greenman: Futility and Hope
My presentation of a poem based upon the song “The Trees” by the band Rush is not hopeful despite what anybody thinks. The poem tells of inevitable destruction. This is the pain in the eyes of the Greenman. I tried to embody that pain even as I attempted to reverse it. While the poem is not hopeful it is also not hopeless. Death and the cycle of re-birth within the vegetable world is a metaphor for our own existence. We like to believe that we too will live on, but I’m here to say that we don’t. Like the Maples and the Oaks who fought ruthlessly for the sunlight in the song, we too fight and end the lives of our brothers. There is no denying that. Those blood stained thickets of wars immemorial contained pain. They contained ending. They contained lost sight and finally rotting limbs. It is only metaphorical that they contained the key to life. No more personality came out of those hearts bled through or out of those yellowing, rotting, poets brains.
But the trees are hopeful. The greenman is hopeful. He stays alive for us and watches the world regenerate. He feels bliss in his growing outward, his leaves stretching, and especially the dropping of his seed. We men are like the Greenman in that we hope past all futility that we too will be immortal through our mortal spending of our seeds. Ernest Becker believed that we deny death through creation of “vehicles of immortality.” Any poetic thought is such a vehicle. If I concern myself with my entire being about the personality of the Greenman then I am dreaming my way out of an existentialist predicament. I once knew a woman who I now call the “kind” existentialist. She kicked me out of her house with only five days to do it in which was completely illegal. I trudged myself out of there quickly, getting lucky and finding a place in two days. Her story was that she now believed after getting a Ph.D. in existentialism and becoming a family counselor that the greatest and worthiest thing we can aspire to is kindness. She told me that and then she did what she did. Last time I saw her she flipped me off. She still hates me because I tried to tell her that what she did was illegal and wrong and unkind. Do you see? This is the story of the trees. When I cannot get along with a brother or a sister and she or he cannot get along with me we must find a way to at least communicate so that war does not ensue. After this woman flipped me off I got very angry, but I stopped myself and asked myself whether or not living in hate was what I really wanted to do. I decided it wasn’t and swallowed my anger. My question to you now is this: when we swallow our anger is this not the most likely time that we become for all intents and purposes the most tree-like?
The Greenman is eternal because he refuses to kill. He can only grow. I was the Greenman when I did not return the insult to this woman and perhaps even forgave her then. Jesus Christ was the Greenman when he told people to “turn the other cheek.” Kiea Miala, came up to me after the presentation and said to me that my Greenman was the kind of masculinity that she wanted to foster as a woman! My presentation felt good to me because of the sheer numbers of women at the CC. Somehow, I was healed of their shadow side’s anger. I was brave enough to walk into the forest of trees to fight for my right to be a man. I became a man by becoming a tree. I did not shoot back when all of guykind was blasted unknowingly by women who didn’t really
consider whether or not a man was in the room. I was able to speak of the man’s ability to shoot forth seed, to let those women in my class know that without me there is no sapling. And I think it made a difference. Women must know that they need men and without men there is no life. Modern culture does not require this of all women anymore, however. Some women, by nature, are not meant to be with men, only other women. But for those women who just feel a little slighted by the unfairness of the war with men, so like that of the war between Rush’s Oaks and Maples in the song, I wanted to make peace. I wanted to talk to them and show them WHY the maples wanted more sunlight and why the oaks ignored their pleas. Neil Peart, the drummer of Rush wrote the lyrics to the song so I am only working off of his poem now. The trees wanted simply to survive. The greenman is both hospitable host to the living and the obvious example of passing time and death. Caskets are usually made of wood. Roots go down deep. A tree is a place to enter a shamanic space. A tree is a place of worship. Blood on a tree is one of the most powerful symbols. It is the symbol of the cross among many others I won’t go into here. The greenman is the savior, the quiet carrier of new life, the undertaker and nonexistent.
There is no Greenman except for in stone in Europe and various other places. He doesn’t exist. Even what he means doesn’t exist to those who truly find out what he means. At that point it is too late because you are already dead. Would you trade your life so a strange child could live. Mostly, the answer to that is no. Look at the starving in Ethiopia. Look at the way we ignore the political prisoners, people in so much pain that way over here safe within our suburbs we can only think of them in terms of what they were like as children, for we never want to know what it feels like to be so completely forgotten. We strive to give these “people” something in the way of sympathy but we go directly back into mythology. It is when you cast off mythology that you
finally understand it. It is not a delving into the language of psychological manifesto. Hillman will not save us from our moment of blackness. Hillman has a butt just like the rest of us and out of that butt comes fertilizer for the trees. No hero will save us here, perhaps generations from now some hero will be remembered and help us understand along the way, but no hero will take away our pain. This was the message of the Greenman as it was the message of Christ who wanted the pain taken away, but could not have it done. So we are left ultimately in a quandary. Are we to believe in anything?
When they chopped down the trees in the song who decided? Mankind decided for only mankind can use “hatchet, axe and saw.” We cut down those branches that are weak. Darwin was right about natural selection. If we bicker we become weak and are eventually chopped down. A victorious war means simply that one side knows for a fact that it will not be demolished by the other side. It does not mean it is strong or healthy. That only comes in peace although many think that because wars spur the economy a war will bring things around economically. Not true. One interpretation by a fan of Rush, Davey O’flaherty of Washington, England, said that Peart wrote the song about the U.S.A. and Canada. Is it possible that we are on the verge of a war with Canada? Or is that just a dream that Peart had? Obviously, we are not about to fight Canada. We are the closest of allies, supposedly.
I cannot say without more research exactly what Peart had in mind when he wrote this fairy tale of a song. All I can say is that I found a spokesman for the song in the Greenman. There are no guarantees of any wisdom at all to come from this exercise. We ultimately all die, but it is for the living to assume that there is a hope of a chance that we might live somehow too. That is the Greenman. Belief in hope.