Ever since man invented a system to let recorded his thoughts, ie, the writing, he used all useful supports he found at your fingertips: clay, stone, bronze, lead, cloth, ivory, animal skin or parchment and even human skin (tattoos for example), papyrus, paper, glass, the latest plasma technology and what future holds.

Certainly the most romantic and very old support, although today it may be considered insufficiently respectful of nature, has been and it is now the bark of trees.

Who does not know the poem by Antonio Machado, the famous Spanish poet,  belonging to his work “Campos de Castilla”, 1912, which he called "Campos de Soria"?

I’ve seen once more the golden poplars,
roadside poplars of the Duero,
between San Polo and San Saturio,
beyond the ancient walls
of Soria – watchtower towards
Aragon, on Castilian soil.

The riverside poplars that blend
the rustling of dry leaves
with water’s sound when the wind rises
have initials carved
in their bark, lovers’ names
those symbols that are years.
Poplars of love whose branches yesterday
were filled with nightingales:
poplars that tomorrow will be
lyres of the fragrant spring wind:
poplars of love by the water that flows
and passes by and dreams,
You go with me, I carry you in my heart!

( from http://spanishpoems.blogspot.com.es/2005/07/antonio-machado-campos-de-soria.html )

He vuelto a ver los álamos dorados,
álamos del camino en la ribera
del Duero, entre San Polo y San Saturio,
tras las murallas viejas
de Soria —barbacana
hacia Aragón, en castellana tierra—.

Estos chopos del río, que acompañan
con el sonido de sus hojas secas
el son del agua, cuando el viento sopla,
tienen en sus cortezas
grabadas iniciales que son nombres
de enamorados, cifras que son fechas.

¡Álamos del amor que ayer tuvisteis
de ruiseñores vuestras ramas llenas;
álamos que seréis mañana liras
del viento perfumado en primavera;
álamos del amor cerca del agua
que corre y pasa y sueña,
álamos de las márgenes del Duero,
conmigo vais, mi corazón os lleva!

This loving practice, more typical of teenagers, but regardless of age, is very old. Frequently and modern the text is accompanied by a heart, sometimes even to more passionate emphasis is crossed by an arrow or dart of blind Cupid or Eros, the god proper  to this meaning. This detail of the well-arrow or involves a good knowledge of the ancient world or simply it is an unnecessary kitsch.

In any case, the support may seem accidental but in no way it is, because the tree is a living thing that grows and  with  its development it grows that is written on him, as we shall see in a quote from the Latin poet Ovid. Thus, the poet or the lover considers the tree as a living being, and he apostrophizes often this  as if it were a person.

Otherwise it remains curious that the Latin word "liber" has a double meaning here curiously related each other: it means "book" and "bark"; more precisely, it means the inside of the bark, consisted by several fibrous layers. To be more exact, "liber" also means "free" and even the name of an important Roman god, although they have different Indo-European roots and they are therefore different words.

It is evident that  "liber",  meaning "inside of the bark of a tree" and meaning the "book", are related, by the same reason that the Greek word "Biblos" means "papyrus" and book. But this issue deserves further development, which I will make at another time. So in the creation of the language, the tree has become into material and linguistically books.

Well, we have news of the use of this romantic support 2200 years before Machado; for example by Callimachus, Hellenistic poet who lived from 310-240 BC, responsible for directing the famous Library of Alexandria, who wrote the catalog Pinakes inventing a system of classification of books that still it exists  (see http://www.antiquitatem.com/en/libary-of-alexandria-philology-bibliothe  ; he is the author of a poem to "Coma Berenices" famous constellation, only one that is a catasterism (or becomes a star, which is what the word means) of a human character, Queen Berenice, about that on another occasion I will try .

Callimachus, in fragment 73 of his work Aitia ("causes" signfica the word that entitled explanations of various religious, cultural, etc.  events ) tells us:

But graven on your bark may ye bear such writing as shall declare “Cydippe beautiful” (Translated by A.W. Mair, D.Litt., 1921)

The verse refers to the famous and popular love story or love fable "Acontius and Cydippe", about that I will discuss in more detail on another occasion. It suffices now know that Acontius did get an apple to the girl Cydippe with the registration and the formula " I swear by Artemis to take by husband Acontius ". The reading, though unintended, of this oath  joined her them  forever in love. We can remember the important  "apple" plays in love affairs: the judgment of Paris, Helena, Atalanta and Hippomenes .

Many years later, in the V or VI century AD, the Greek Aristaenetus, who includes love poems by various authors, including Callimachus, for which we serve as an informative complement and testimony splendid view of the few fragments of poet which left us, says:

"Hopefully, trees, you had understanding and voice, so that only ye should say 'beautiful Cydippe'; or you had such many letters written on your bark. "

The  lyrical Theocritus, who lived in Syracuse (Sicily), Cos and Alexandria in the third century BC, in his Idyll XVIII, 48 (titled Epithalamium of Helena)  witness us the perhaps ancient practice of Laconia and Sparta to write on trees:

For you afore all shall a coronal of the gray groundling trefoíl
Hang to a shady platan-tree, and a vial of running oil
His offering drip from a silver lip beneath the same platan-tree,
And a Doric rede be writ i' the bark for him that passeth by to mark,
‘I am Helen’s; worship me.’

(Translated by Edmonds, J M. Loeb Classical Library Volume 28. Cambridge, MA. Harvard Univserity Press. 1912)

The word “epithalamium” ( Latin form of Greek ἐπιθαλάμιον, epithalamion, from ἐπί epi "upon," and θάλαμος thalamus, nuptial chamber, nuptial bed), designates the wedding song that in the wedding of a girl the friends of a girl do her in front of  the room of the newly betrothed.

Idyll in turn is a Greek word, εἰδύλλιον, transferred into Latin as Idyllium, which in principle means short poem. It is a lyric poem of love theme in which the characters are idealized shepherds in an ideal nature. Virgil practiced this literary genre or subgenre in his Eclogues or Bucolics. On extension a “idyllium', romance', can also refer to the certain intensity loving  relationship itself.

The Greek poet of the III-II century before Christ Glaucus of Nicopolis also uses the action of writing in the bark, which is reflected in Palatine Anthology IX 341

A. Nymphs answer me truly, if Daphnis on his road rested here his white goats.
B. Yes, yes, piper Pan, and on the back of that poplar tree he cut a message for thee: “Pan, Pan, go tu Malea; to the mountain of Psophis. I shall come there.”
A. Farewell  Nymphs, I go

(Translated by W.R. Paton)

Also Virgil in his Eclogues 5 tand 10  uses this topic.

In Eclogue V, 10-18, (dialogue between Menalcas and Mopsus pastors)

Do you first begin,
good Mopsus, whether minded to sing aught
of Phyllis and her loves, or Alcon's praise,
or to fling taunts at Codrus. Come, begin,
while Tityrus watches o'er the grazing kids.


Nay, then, I will essay what late I carved
on a green beech-tree's rind, playing by turns,
and marking down the notes; then afterward
bid you Amyntas match them if he can.


As limber willow to pale olive yields,
as lowly Celtic nard to rose-buds bright,
so, to my mind, Amyntas yields to you.
But hold awhile, for to the cave we come.

(Translated by J. B. Greenough, 1895)


Incipe, Mopse, prior, si quos aut Phyllidis ignes,
aut Alconis habes laudes, aut iurgia Codri:
incipe, pascentis servabit Tityrus haedos.


Immo haec, in viridi nuper quae cortice fagi
carmina descripsi et modulans alterna notavi,
experiar, tu deinde iubeto ut certet Amyntas.


Lenta salix quantum pallenti cedit olivae,
puniceis humilis quantum saliunca rosetis,
iudicio nostro tantum tibi cedit Amyntas.

And in the Eclogue X Virgil sings his friend, the poet Cornelius Gallus, in love with a whimsical actress named Cytheris (what story often repeated) who in  the poem is called Lycoris; retired to the solitude of an idealized pastoral nature, he writes on the trees the story of his unhappy love:

Eclogue X, 52 et seq.

Resolved am I
in the woods, rather, with wild beasts to couch,
and bear my doom, and character my love
upon the tender tree-trunks: they will grow,
and you, my love, grow with them

(Translated by J. B. Greenough, 1900)

certum est in silvis, inter spelaea ferarum
malle pati, tenerisque meos incidere amores
arboribus; crescent illae, crescetis, amores.

Also the melancholy Propertius in his Elegies, I, XVIII, 19-22:

You'll be witnesses, if a tree has loves,
beech and pine dear to the Arcadian god,
how often my words resound under your delicate shade
and is written in your bark the name, Cynthia!

(Transalate byVincent Katz. Los Angeles. Sun & Moon Press. 1995)

Vos eritis testes, si quos haber arbor amores,
fagus et Arcadio pinus amica deo.
A quotiens teneras resonant mea verba sub umbras,
Scribitur et vestris Cynthia corticibus!

Ovid also uses the "topos" or the poetic "place" in their Heroida V 21-30 (letter of old love heroines to her lovers), which conveys the letter that the nymph Oenone writes to her husband, the Trojan Paris, who later does not hesitate to go to Greece and generate with its abduction of Helen, wife of Menelaus, the leiv-motiv, (what irony!), of the great Trojan War:

The beech trees still preserve my name cut there by your hand;  and Oenone, written by your knife, is read upon their bark;  and, as the trunk increases, may name still grows:
Grow on, and rise straight as testimonies of my name!
There grows, I remember, a poplar, rooted by  the river’s side, on which are carved the letters, testament of our love.
Live, thou poplar, I pray, fed on the bordering stream, that holds this inscription
In your furrowed bark:

If Paris is able to live without Oenone, than Xanthus shall would flow back to his source.

Xanthus, rush backwards; turn backward your streams around.
Paris still allows Oenone to be deserted.

Incisae servant a te mea nomina fagi
Et legor Oenone falce notata tua;
Et quantum trunci, tantum mea nomina crescunt.
Crescite et in títulos surgite recta meos.
Populus est, memini, fluvialis consita  rivo,
Est in qua nostri littera scripta memor;
Popule,vive, precor, quae consita margine ripae
Hoc in rugosa cortice Carmen habes:
“Cum Paris Oenone poterit spirare relicta,
Ad fontemXanthi versa recurret aqua”
Xanthe, retro propera, versaeque recurrite limphae.
Sustinet Oenonen deseruisse Paris.

(Note that  poplar is the tree that supports the scripture about that Ovid tells us, like Machado. It's the most logical if we talk about trees "planted on the banks of the river,"  Xanthos and  Duero.

This combination of  inscribed on the bark of trees love and impossible actions, called “adynata” (Greek word which means “impossible actions” will be repeated frequently in the later  bucolic poetry of the Renaissance. The “Adynata”, return the river to its sources, the darkening of the sun, the immobility of the sky, are an expression of the world upside down:

We can still quote Calpurnius Siculus from old , author of the mid-first century BC, Latin poet born in Sicily, who wrote (now being questioned authorship of his plays) the Ecloges inspired by Theocritus and Virgil, and he also repeated this “topos” in Bucolic I, 19 ff .:

( Corydon and Ornitus brothers take shelter from the heat in the shade of a beech, whose bark are engraved with a poem with the prediction of Faun announces the return of the golden age …)

ORNITUS.  Now we have both come beneath the shade we sought. But what legend is this inscribed upon the hallowed beech, which someone of late has scored with hasty knife? Do you notice how the letters still preserve the fresh greenness of their cutting and do not as yet gape with sapless slit?

CORYDON.  Ornytus, look closer. You can more quickly scan the lines inscribed on the bark high up. You have length enough of limb by the bounty of your father, and tall stature ungrudgingly transmitted by your mother.

ORNITUS.  These be no verses in wayside style by shepherd or by traveller: 'tis a very god who sings. No ring here of cattle-stall; nor do alpine yodellings make refrains for the sacred lay.

CORYDON.  You tell of miracles! Away with dallying; and at once with eager eye read me through the inspired poem.

ORNITUS.  "I, Faunus of celestial birth, guardian of hill and forest, foretell to the nations that these things shall come. Upon the sacred tree I please to carve the joyous lay in which destiny is revealed. Rejoice above all, ye denizens of the woods; rejoice, ye peoples who are mine! …
(Translated by J. Wight Duff and Arnold M. Duff)

ORNITUS:      et iam captatae pariter successimus umbrae.
                        sed quaenam sacra descripta est pagina fago,
                       quam modo nescio quis properanti falce notavit?
                       aspicis ut virides etiam nunc littera rimas
                       servet et arenti nondum se laxet hiatu?
CORYDON: Ornyte, fer propius tua lumina: tu potes alto
                      cortice  descriptos citius percurrere versus;
                      nam tibi longa satis pater internodia largus
                      procerumque dedit mater non invida corpus.
ORNITUS:   non pastor, non haec triviali more viator,
                       sed deus ipse canit: nihil armentale resultat,
                       nec montana sacros distinguunt iubila versus.
CORYDON :  mira refers; sed rumpe moras oculoque sequaci
                       quamprimum nobis divinum perlege carmen.
ORNITUS:    "qui iuga, qui silvas tueor, satus aethere Faunus,
                      haec populis ventura cano: iuvat arbore sacra
                      laeta patefactis incidere carmina fatis.
                      vos o praecipue nemorum gaudete coloni,
                      vos populi gaudete mei:

Note: disclosed fates  seem to refer to the advent of Emperor Nero, whom sings Calpurnius.

And again he uses on the Bucolic III in verses 43 and then 91:

v. III, 43:   

I.  Come, speak — for I will carve your words upon the bark of the cherry-tree and then cut away the lines on the red rind and take them to her.
(Translated by J. Wight Duff and Arnold M. Duff)

Dic age; nam cerasi tua cortice verba notabo
Et decisa feram rutilanti carmina libro.

v. III,91

LYCIDAS: …Yet, ere all is o'er, these lines shall be affixed upon the accursed tree:

'Shepherds, put not your trust in fickle maids.

Phyllis is loved by Mopsus; the end of all claims Lycidas.' "
(Translated by J. Wight Duff and Arnold M. Duff)

Hi tamen ante mala  figentur in arbore versus
“Credere pastores, levibus nolite puellis
Phyllida Mopsus habet, Lycidam habet ultima rerum”.

Also Nemesianus,  in his Eclogue I, v. 28-29 writes the praises of Meliboeus on a tree trunk:

But since you ask but the praise my pipe can give, hear now what the cherry-tree you see beside the river keeps upon this theme; it preserves my lay in the carving on its bark.
(Translated by J. Wight Duff and Arnold M. Duff)

Accipe quae super haec cerasus,quam cernis ad amnem,
Continent, inciso servans mea carmina libro.

This love-poetic topic continued to be used extensively in the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance naturally to this day with the "rebirth" of bucolic poetry. Serve as paradigmatic examples Garcilaso de la Vega and the immortal Cervantes, who uses it at least three times in his immortal Life of Don Quixote .

Garcilaso, Eclogue III, vv. 237 et seq.

One of those fair goddesses, whose beauty
seemed to exceed that of all the rest,
her countenance expressing the great pity
aroused by such a sorrowful event.
standing a little to one side, was busy
carving on the bark of a tree a text,
which was to be the fair nymph’s epitaph,
delivering these word on her behalf.

(Translated by John Dent-Young, The University of Chicago Press, 2009)

Una de aquellas diosas, que en belleza,
al parecer, a todas excedía,
mostrando en el semblante la tristeza
que del funesto y triste caso había
apartado algún tanto, en la corteza
de un álamo estas letras escribía
como epitafio de la ninfa bella,
que hablaban así por parte de ella.

This verse of Garcilaso seems to remind to Sannazaro, Arcadia, VI, 1:

While Ergasto sang devotional song, Fronimo, wittier than any other pastor, wrote it on a green beech bark "

Mentre Ergasto cantò la pietosa canzone, Fronimo, sovra tutti pastori ingegnosissimo, la scrise in una verde corteccia de faggio”

or the sonnet by Ludovico Dolce:

"So for me the logs in which I carved and wrote
my name with  high and beautiful  notes".

“Così a me i tronchi dove intagli e scrivi
Il nome mio con note altere e belle”.

Cervantes uses it on the story of Marcela and Chrysostom:

Don Quixote, Part One, chap. XII:

We have a place not far off, where there are some two dozen  of beech trees, and on them all you may find I do not know how many Marcellas cut in the smooth bark. On some of them is a crown carved over the name; as much as to say that Marcella bears away the crown, and deserves the garland of beauty. Here sighs one shepherd, there another whines; here is one singing doleful ditties, there another is wringing his hands and making woeful complaints. (Wordsworth Classics)

No está muy lejos de aquí un sitio donde hay casi dos docenas de altas hayas, y no hay ninguna que su lisa corteza no tenga grabado y escrito el nombre de Marcela, y encima de alguna, una corona grabada en el mismo árbol, como si más claramente dijera su amante que Marcela la lleva y la merece de toda la hermosura humana. Aquí sospira un pastor, allí se queja otro; acullá se oyen amorosas canciones, acá desesperadas endechas.

Also in chap. XXVI:

However, he entertained himself with his amorous contemplation, walking up and down the meadow, and writing some poetical conceptions in the smooth sand, and upon the barks of trees, all of them expressive of his sorrows, and the praises of Dulcinea; …(Wordsworth Classics)

Y, así, se entretenía paseándose por el pradecillo, escribiendo y grabando por las cortezas de los  árboles y por la menuda arena muchos versos, todos acomodados a su tristeza, y algunos en alabanza de Dulcinea., .

And again in Part II, Chapter 73, which is the last of the work:

…said Samson Carrasco; “for, as everybody knows I am a most celebrated  poet, I will write pastorals in abundance. Sometimes too I may raise my strain, as occasion offers, to divert us, as we range the groves and plains. But one thing, gentlemen, we must not forget, it is absolutely necessary that each of us choose a name for the shepherdess he means to celebrate in his lays; nor must we forget the ceremony used by the amorous shepherds, of writing, carving, notching or engraving on every tree the names of such snepherdesses, though the bark be ever  so hard” (Wordsworth Classics)

-Y más- dijo Sansón Carrasco- que como ya todo el mundo sabe, yo soy celebérrimo poeta y a cada paso compondré versos pastoriles o cortesanos o como más me viniere a cuento, para que nos entretengamos por esos andurriales donde habemos de andar; y lo que más es menester, señores míos, es que cada uno escoja el nombre de la pastora que piensa celebrar en sus versos, y que no dejemos árbol, por duro que sea, donde no la retule y grabe su nombre, como es uso y costumbre de los enamorados pastores.

Since then today or poets do not have ceased to sing of love nor lovers have stopped recording their names on the trees, now, it is true, in competition with the horrible habit, and globalized, knotting ferrous padlocks on the railings of the bridges, as false  often as proclaimed loves, ready to disappear in the river on which hang.

They are names of lovers

This website uses cookies so that you have the best user experience. If you continue browsing you are giving your consent for the acceptance of the aforementioned cookies and the acceptance of our cookie policy , click the link for more information.

Aviso de cookies