Must understanding and faith dictate silence in the face of an encounter with destructive forces? PIW editor Rami Saari considers the ethical implications of Zelda’s nature imagery.
Fire and tree, like good and bad, signify essential, paired human experiences – fervor and indifference, burning and regrowth, destruction and construction, that which is red and that which is green. There is no dialogue between the flame and the cypress tree in Zelda’s poem ‘Two Elements’, unless one considers silence a kind of dialogue rather than a renunciation of it. One can’t approach bared fangs with caresses, or teach people to act logically when their hearts are pounding, their brains seething, and their ears stone deaf. Something in the midst of the flame rebels wildly at the sight of the “grim, ancient pride” of the cypress, a rebellion based on naked envy: the envy of the hungry fire for the tree, which knows how to manage with a measured amount of “earth and air and sun,/ [of] rain and dew”. In many senses this is the same envy experienced by the bored, well-heeled world of plenty for the people who live in terrible want, but seem to preserve some lost, primal innocence and humanity, the genuine grace of days that are past and will never return.
Which of the two – the fire or the tree – enjoys greater freedom? The one which depends on the forces of nature or the one enslaved by its power to burn and destroy? What is the role of self-control in the freedom to destroy “the establishment” in comparison to the freedom to live without robbing others and without harming them?
Zelda, whose poetry is richly spiritual, relies on two tangible elements in this poem. Paradoxically, the cypress, which is the more tangible of the two, stands in place and keeps its silence, out of knowledge, understanding and faith. All these, along with a stability and constancy, are lacking in the fire, just as they are lacking in the decision-makers who cut down trees in order to avoid forest fires. For this reason, it is not too late to write and read, to protest. The cypress maintains silence, not because it knows what it knows, but rather because trees only have the power to speak in fairy tales. Everyone else who is not only in possession of a brain, but also a mouth, or at least a writing hand, must not allow themselves to be satisfied by mere understanding, faith and silence.