Reading Zettel’s Traum: Week 20, pp. 201-220

Etym-analysis of “cypress” is followed by a more general examination of bushes, shrubbery and trees in Poe’s works.  Three types of etyms are distinguished: universal, which are common to the whole humankind;  generational, which are bound to a particular time-period, and individual, unique to each person. The etyms belonging to the latter type are considered the most toxic and the most difficult to recognise.

Some of the specific trees that are discussed are the willow, the tamarind, and the sycamore. Pagenstecher also touches upon the motif of bleeding and talking trees in the works by Virgil, Tasso, and Spencer, which adds an element of luridness to the discussion. In Book III of The Aeneid, when Aeneas starts tearing at the branches of a tree, he sees blood and hears the voice of Polydorus, the son of Priam killed by the Thracian king. In Book XIII of Jerusalem Delivered, when Tancred stabs a tree in an enchanted forest, the wounded tree starts talking, and the hero realises that it contains the spirit of his lover Clorinda. In Spencer’s The Faerie Queene, the Redcrosse Knight breaks off a branch of a tree that also begins dripping blood and speaking in a human voice, revealing itself to be a young knight called Fradubio who, along with his wife Fraelissa, fell prey to the spells of an evil witch.

Pagenstecher briefly looks at E.T.A. Hoffman’s last novel Master Flea with its rich botanical symbolism. Wilma and Franziska regain their human form and step out of the undergrowth to join the conversation whose next big topic is the relation between trees and voyeurism. The main trigger of the ensuing discussion is the description of the pear tree in Landor’s Cottage.  The said tree grows near the cottage and is an ideal vantage point for spying  should one fancy climbing  it to find out what is going on inside the house. Referring to the fact that the Latin for “pear” is “pirus”, Daniel comes up with the etym “peer-tree” or, in other words, a tree for spying. The voyeur’s recourse to trees or bushes for concealment is a wide-spread phenomenon. A typical example is the main character of  Joseph von Eichendorff’s Memoirs of a Good-for-Nothing spying on the girl he is in love with:

Right in front of the palace, just below the windows of my lovely lady’s room, stood a flowering shrub. Here I used to conceal myself each morning, looking up from between the branches, for I was afraid to show myself openly. And each day I watched her appear at the open window in her snow-white robe, still flushed and not yet fully awake.

When the conversation returns to Landor’s Cottage, Pagenstecher methodically etym-analyses the names of the four bird species singing in wicker cages suspended from the “fantastic pear-tree”: the mocking bird, the oriole, the bobolink, and the canary.

Upon Wilma’s suggestion, the company breaks up into two parties that go mushroom-picking. Wilma goes together with Paul, and Pagenstecher with Franziska. We follow the latter pair, and it is obvious that there is sexual tension between the two. When Franziska puts her hand on the older man’s  elbow, he experiences a “little happy torment”. Their flirting and bantering is, of course, replete with play on words, which is more than often downright obscene. For example, when Daniel tells Franziska to listen more carefully, the trite expression “Sperr mal die Ohren auf!” (literally: “open up the ears”) comes out as “Sperma die Ohrn auf“. The seemingly innocent sentence “she had today more tricks than back in the days” brings to mind the registered prostitute of ancient Rome (i.e. “meretrix”) “Sie hatte heute Mehr=Thrix als damals”. Pagenstecher is very frank, if jokingly self-deprecating, about what is going on, telling Franziska at some point that although it is very kind of her to flirt with him, he is nothing but another “living corpse” (Lebnder Leichnam), and  that if she really would like to derive some benefit from him, she should talk with him about literature.

As they continue chatting and looking for mushrooms, suddenly, Franziska experiences a strong feeling of déjà vu: she thinks she has already been to that place and has already seen the juniper tree before her. She tells Pagenstecher about this, and he confirms Franziska’s suspicions reminding her that she was a guest at his house eight years before. Her parents went to Scotland and left their daughter with him. She remembers that much, but somehow she has completely forgotten the juniper tree and that particular place which, as it turns out, she visited with him as a child.  They start recollecting more details of that stay, especially all the games they played, as, in Daniel’s words, most of the time he performed the duty of the majordomo of her toy world. It is left for the reader to wonder how Franziska’s parents could hand over their eight-year daughter to that creep.

to be continued

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