Poet Jeffery Beam

The Green Man's Man

The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find;
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas,
Annihilating all that's made
To a green thought in a green shade.
—Andrew Marvell

Green, I want you green.
Green wind. Green branches.
—Federico Garcia Lorca


For a long time I
stand at the oak's foot
asking it

What can you tell me of
time            weather

Its heartbeat doesn't stop
It moves ahead in
its rooted place
swaying its canopy in the wind

Dark wind             Bright wind
It never says a word
It just keeps talking

In order to make sense
of the ground
I build an earthen hill and sit upon it

The ants welcome me as their brother
Bees radiate out in golden circuits
while above the oaks' light-hungry leaves
spread wide            The clouds
call me
                   changing their forms

Each day I visit my mound
till one day the rains come
Then I float
happy and wet
among the tadpoles' delight
the moccasins' white-mouthed praise


I ask the wind to carry me
and it does
                          Opening my catkins
I make it rain yellow
I make sunshine into powder


I open Nature's book
The more I know
The less I know

Finding under the oak:
majesty in a creeping snail
deliberation             seriousness?
shyness and yet
what absolute trust
the deeply slumbering spirit within*


Once when the hurricane slammed the oak
to the ground
I walked stunned within its branches
elaborate with mistletoe

Girth sacrificed to its friend wind
Dignified even then


A garden and country**
Father to perpetual fire
Channel of the gods and goddesses
Opening heaven's crack
Last leaf never falling

I, in my green shirt,
put on my broad antlers
sure-footed, Druidic, lichen-dressed

A wizened-woodman


To entice the eye
into the mysteries of time and weather
I sprout leaves


The oak my father

Twig in winter
Bud in spring
Leaf in summer
Acorn in autumn


All that I am:

A woodpecker at dusk and dawn
on the white oak trunk

A cardinal flower at field's edge reading cloud shadows

The cardinal points - every direction a good and purposeful one

Every oak an axis through earth's center


Ah, the lacewing's found the horn-of-plenty at the oak's foot


Sometimes I think there are two of me
for my arms are so big I embrace so much
It just doesn't seem that I can be just one

But then One is what I am and
like being
as all the oaks are One Oak
as all rivers roar into One


I sit at my table counting
the times an acorn hit me
on the head
or the times I looked up straight
up into glinty leaf frissons
when the sun's brevity broke
through the multitude and
I, too, looked down at myself
Green thought in a green shade


The blue jay quarrelsome as
he is
                   has style

For this the oak befriended him
Together they made a forest


A Green Narrative in Green Shade:

Dylan Thomas's "Force that drives the green fuse that drives the flower" alludes, at least in part, to the primal energy signified by the Green Man. Thomas portrays the force's potent urgency toward deterioration and death, but the Green Man's energy, even then, despite Thomas's depressive assessment, brims with fecundity. A figure of unlimited vegetative force, the Green Man appears in many cultures and in many disguises. He survives as both pagan god and Christian icon. In the greater archetypes he is the dying and reviving god of ancient religions, and the Sacred Tree as depicted in the Vedas and in Norse mythology. One can catch a glimpse of him, not yet quite overcome by green, in Neolithic imagery, in Tammuz of the Babylonians, in the Egyptian god Osiris, in the Dionysian Mysteries, and in (Kur-noo-nohs) Cernunnos of the Celts. We also sense him in the divinities of Jainism, the American Indian, the Brazilian forest, and in the Aztec God Xipe Tótec (whose heart is emerald). He lives in the tales of Robin Hood, Jack-in-the-Green, the King of May, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

The Green Man's fertile residence within Christian iconography concentrates, as in no other mythology or religion, in the figure's head. In the West, the oldest type manifests as a single leaf or many leaves forming a male head. In another, vegetation disgorges from his mouth, and even sometimes from his ears and eyes—forming his hair, beard, eyebrows, and moustache. Finally, in some, his face materializes as fruit or flower born and nestled within the green. His eyes always look at us from the original spring.

For me, the Green Man lives most in the Sufi being, Khidr (a wali, or enlightened one, sometime called a prophet or even an angel), known as the Verdant or Green One, whose footsteps leave a green imprint. He appears unexpectedly to the true aspirant and inspired poets when they least expect him and most need him. Khidr, in my opinion, is in all probability the strongest influence on our most familiar church images of the Green Man. After the conquest in the West, Arabic masons and carvers shared not only their highly evolved technical skills, but also their stories, with Romanesque and Gothic artists. Present before then in western culture, the Green Man, at this point, solidifies his power as Christian icon. As a symbol of resurrection and regeneration his image becomes integral, especially from the 11th to the 16th centuries, to many of the great cathedrals and wayside churches of Europe.

The Green Man is not separate from us; he is our source, emphasizing and celebrating the positive creative laws of Nature, the native intelligence that shepherds and protects this world, and the ecological rightness that guides us. The Green Man reveals and bestows life's mysteries—indeed, he embodies them—generating in us the impulse to personify anything that deeply moves us, and compelling us to plow our hands into the soil where his promise dwells, nestled in Persephone's arms, perpetually ready to germinate in and nurture the world.

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Last updated: October 1, 2012