John Quinn Scores Again


From the lyric to the ecstatic to the, at times, appropriate solemnity - that's the mood of a new documentary on radio from the excellent John Quinn, an advance tape of which has made its way here. Seamus Heaney comes in with his poem on Mad Sweeney, and it's odd that Sweeney has particular praise for the alder: The alder is my darling All thornless in the gap, Some milk of human kindness Coursing in its sap.

The farmer and the fisherman might say that the alder grows like a weed along river courses, getting in the way of the cattle coming to drink, while few anglers have failed to lose their precious tied flies in its foliage. Still.

Seamus appears again - himself a tree-climber, ensconced in his beech, watching the American soldiers preparing for the Normandy assault in the Forties. The writers from whose work extracts are read include Thoreau, of course, John Stewart Collis, Hermann Hesse, Antoine de Saint Exupery, John Fowles and others. There is much sonorous addressing of lone-standing specimens, in its dignity described once as a Beethoven of a tree.

John himself finds as "overwhelming in its majesty" the famous copper beech in Lady Gregory's Coole, the autograph tree as it is called, with its long roll call of initials of the great of the literary revival: Yeatses (W.B. and Jack), O'Casey and so many others. "Trees once dominated the world: questioned by Caesar," we learn, "had travelled for two months without reaching the end of the forest."

The beauty of trees, their dignity, their strength and their intricate engineering skills: lifting tons of water up to 80 or 100 feet, in the form of sap; renewing themselves each year, balancing, it might be said, branches which in the oak, at times, might be almost compared in width to the main trunk, must enthral. There is great energy and talk when Thomas Pakenham comes on the air in the programme, as he does here and there. He thinks it a good idea to name outstanding trees. Thus they have one called King Lir - very much to the point, as they are near Derravaragh Lake where the children of Lir, as you know, sojourned as swans. He has a wonderful tree a maze in itself. "A good novel takes you into another world, so does a tree."

Endlessly fascinating. The programme I am what I would be goes out on radio at 2.45 p.m. on November 13th, to be repeated on November 19th at 8.02 p.m. Radio 1, that is. You'll want to write a poem or plant a tree. Y