The Lost Words: Spell Songs are a collection of songs formed from the spell-poem book The Lost Word: A Spell Book by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris. I found the album through a typo and have been enchanted with it ever since. I loved Selkie Boy, Heron, and Kingfisher, but my personal favorite was the song Heart Wood. The album itself came out of a need to reconnect and empathize with nature. It has a folksy, nostalgic feel to it, and draws the listener along the tales of several creatures: that of the tree, the heron, the kingfisher, the goldfinch, the acorn, and many more.
The song and poem Heartwood came into existence because of an event in Sheffield, England, where thousands of trees had been cut down, and many more were scheduled to go (BBC). The creators of The Lost Words made this song as a charm-against-harm for all the trees doomed to be felled.
The song comes to us from the point of view of a tree, speaking to a cutter. It asks the cutter if they will cut to the heartwood, the oldest, most durable, most central area of a tree. The tree asks the cutter what they plan to do with their body after they are gone. Will they be thrown on a log pile? Will they be burned? It’s a tad morbid, but it draws the reader into some interesting questions.
My favorite part of the song is a sharp and startling contrast that comes about ¾ of the way through. It starts by laying out how powerful the tree is. “I drink the rain, I eat the sun…” and then onto all the trees does for us “I give the breath that fills your lungs.” Then the knife twists. “I hear the roaring engines thrum. I cannot run.” Here is this powerful tree, referenced in the poem as “a world… a maker of life, drinker of rain, breaker of rocks, caster of shade. I am a breath-giver, deep-thinker… a city of butterflies, a country of creatures…” and here is how powerless it is, that we may bring it down with the blade of an ax, and enough will. How cruel and foolish we are to do so thoughtlessly, to bring down the work of years, of centuries, to lay low a creature that harms none and does for all. It brings to mind a book called The Giving Tree… The tree is a beautiful creature, often depicted as selfless and wise. Its mark in literature is widespread and widely felt (from Joshua to the Lorax and on) and its mark on the world and people is yet wider. It brings to mind gold-gilded childhood memories of trees that were never too tall to climb and of maple-shaded creeks; of apples and peaches and plums and stick-sword fights.
The personification of the tree through the heartwood phrase is quite interesting. In the song it is described as having a beat and as being able to weep and break, much like that of a human heart. Even the steady beat of the music draws the image and the feel of a beating heart, a living, struggling creature. In the original poem, the tree asks the cutter if they or the people that sent them have heartwood, essentially asking if they have a heart. It shines guilt upon the cutter and those that sent him, while drawing empathy from readers. Readers must also remember that these pieces, especially the original poem, are rhetorical as well as artistic.The writers are rallying support for the Sheffield trees (and those around the world) while shining guilt and shame upon the ones that threaten them.
The importance of protecting our world and preserving it cannot be understated, and this piece serves as a beautiful gateway into such a conversation. This essay/analysis/thought capture has been a little messy, but I wanted to get this piece and my thoughts on it out there. I might do pieces on the other songs as well, but we’ll see. I highly recommend you go listen to this song and the album. It is available on both Apple Music and Youtube. I have included the original poem as well as links to the Lost Words’ website, the song on Youtube, a blog about the Sheffield trees, and a BBC report on the Sheffield trees. Please comment back with any thoughts or interpretations you may have.