THE TREE CALENDAR
A cycle of 13 songs
text: Hilary Llewellyn-Williams
Mezzo, piano and string Quartet
duration: 56 mins
The Tree Calendar is a cycle of poems based on an ancient Celtic 13-month calendar. There are various versions of the calendar, including an early Welsh one, but here the older Gaelic version known as the Beth-Luis-Nion is used, as it is less complicated and more widely known.
Each 28-day month is named after a tree, which has its particular place in the year due to symbolic and magical associations. The tree names are also the names of letters in the Gaelic alphabet. In its original form, the Gaelic alphabet had thirteen consonants, and these were given the names of the thirteen calendar trees. This is an example of the widespread ancient belief that trees and language (especially writing) were mystically linked- a link reaffirmed through these poems.
The source for the Beth-Luis-Nion calendar was The White Goddess by Robert Graves. Graves, through a combination of scholarship and creative imagination, connected the trees, and their symbolism, with the seasonal cycles, myth and poetry. He was convinced that he’d stumbled upon a coded key to the mysteries of prehistoric religious belief. Whatever the truth of that, this poet and many others have been stimulated by the images of the Beth-Luis-Nion.
Hilary llewellyn-Williams also writes that ‘These poems are an attempt to explore further possibilities by relating some of these images to my own experience, during the course of a year (1985). As the year drew to a close and I completed the last poem, Robert Graves died, thus bringing the whole sequence round to completion.’
In case anyone is wondering what happens to the 365th day in the (solar) year, that extra day (23rd December) has no month. It does have a tree, the Yew, one of the five ‘vowel’ trees, but for reasons of symmetry is left out of the cycle.
(Based on Hilary Llewellyn-Williams’ introduction the the cycle first published in 1987)
Below are links to a private recording I made in 2007
Catherine Allen ~ mezzo
Ian Lawson ~ piano
Judith Templeman, Jeremy Morris ~ violins
Nancy Johnson ~ viola
Jane Oliver ~ cello