Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/211

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199
TENNYSON AND BOTANY.

illustrated in those passages of his poems relating to the poplar. This is a tree with which he has been familiar from early childhood, as we gather from the "Ode to Memory," where he fondly recalls—

"The seven elms, the poplars four,

That stand beside my father's door."

The famous poplar in "Mariana," which Mr. Read has reproduced in his fine picture of the "Moated Grange," now at South Kensington, is a prominent object in a very striking poem. The locality, it is scarcely necessary to say, is the fen country:

"About a stone-cast from the wall

 A sluice with blackened waters slept,
And o'er it many, round and small,
 The clustered marish-mosses crept.
Hard by a poplar shook alway,
 All silver-green with gnarlèd bark;
 For leagues no other tree did mark
The level waste, the rounding gray."

As an example of landscape-painting in words, there is nothing more perfect than this in modern literature. We are not aware if the doubt was ever suggested before, but we think it is at least questionable if Mr. Read is right in assuming the particular tree in his poem to be a Lombardy poplar. "Silver-green," a remarkable epithet, is more applicable to the abele, or white poplar, than to the fastigiate Lombardy species, and the sound of the trembling of the leaves is less noticeable in the latter than in most of the other poplars. In other poems this rustling noise is described as "lisping," "hissing," and like the sound of "falling showers," phrases all tolerably approximating to exactness. In "In Memoriam" there is a special reference to this white poplar whose silver-green foliage shows much more white than green in a gale of wind:

"With blasts that blow the poplar white,

And lash with storm the streaming pane."

The "quivering," "tremulous" aspen is also mentioned, but Mr. Tennyson is too good a botanist to fall into the popular error of supposing that it is the only tree which has fluttering leaves. Except the Ontario species and one or two others, nearly all the poplars have the same peculiarity, caused, it may not be superfluous to say, by the compression of the leaf-stalk. Very curious it is to notice in the upper branches, while a light wind is overhead, each particular leaf shaking on its own account, while the branch of which it is a part, and the tree itself, are perfectly motionless.

Of the beech the notices are scantier and less specific. Its peculiarly twisted roots, rich autumn tints, smooth bark, and unusual leafiness, are all described, however, more or less poetically. The following verse from "In Memoriam" has a certain pensive sweetness of its own: