The symbolism of trees

The tree as a symbol for family history research is well known and I use it throughout Ignoring Gravity. The family tree, the networking of roots and branches, stretching wide, unseen beneath the earth and hidden by leaves, is an ideal image for the twists and turns of Rose Haldane’s heritage. Trees are everywhere.oak tree on Wimbledon Common3 25-4-14sequoia NP4 g grant 16-10-12Trees also symbolise life, fertility, the seasons, the passing of time, and renewal. They appear throughout literature and art. One of my favourite paintings is by David Hockney, a scene painted a few miles from where I grew up in Yorkshire. bigger trees near water by david hockney 5-5-14Bigger Trees Near Warter, measures 12×4 metres and was painted outside in six weeks, then completed in the studio. Hockney used digital technology to assemble a computer mosaic of the picture, comprising 50 individual canvases, so he could step back and see it as a whole. It features two copses, a sycamore tree, buildings and early flowering daffodils.

The concept of a tree of life has been used throughout religion and mythology, alluding to the interconnection of all forms of life throughout nature. Trees appear in history too, ancient oaks were often used as meeting points for rural councils. Much of England in the 13th century was covered in forest and one tree in particular has a romantic connection: the yew tree in the Derbyshire village of Doveridge plays an important role in the legend of Robin Hood. The ‘real’ one, mentioned in Piers Plowman, not just the Errol Flynn one! Robin Hood's yew tree 16-5-14It is reputed that Robin Hood married his sweetheart Clorinda beneath this yew tree. The nearby village of Loxley, near Uttoxeter, is said to be his birthplace. Click here to read more.

Trees are a symbol of life…
‘He could not die when the trees were green,
For he loved the time too well.’
John Clare [1793-1864] from ‘The Dying Child’  sequoia NP1 16-10-12oak tree on Wimbledon Common5 25-4-14… an ever-present symbol of nature…
‘A slumber did my spirit seal;
I had no human fears;
She seemed a thing that could not feel
The touch of earthly years.
No motion has she now, no force;
She neither hears nor sees;
Rolled round in earth’s diurnal course,
With rocks, and stones, and trees.’
William Wordsworth from ‘A slumber did my spirit steal’ [1800] sequoia NP3 16-10-12oak tree on Wimbledon Common4 25-4-14…and of procreation.
‘Under the greenwood tree
Who loves to lie with me,
And turn his merry note
Unto the sweet bird’s throat,
Come hither, come hither, come hither:
Here shall he see
No enemy
But winter and rough weather.’ 
William Shakespeare from ‘As You Like It’ [1599] sequoia NP2 16-10-12oak tree on Wimbledon Common1 25-4-14



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  1. Wonderful post! 🙂
    I am lucky enough to have a large Mango tree which hangs over my back deck. I have a hammock which swings from one branch to another and I often lay here to write. Trees are inspiring 🙂

  2. A fascinating post. Trees are wise and rich with sybolism. I am currently working on a project that contains alot of tree mythology, some of this mythology I have borrowed from other cultures and some I have made up. Great post 🙂