Friday, May 05, 2006

The Oak and the Reed

The oak said to the reed:
"Nature did you wrong.
To you a tiny wren is a burden.
A mild puff of wind forces your head low.
I, a huge Caucasian peak, defy the sun's rays and the raging storms.
A gale for you is a breeze for me.
If you let me shelter you, you would suffer less.
I would defend you.
But you were born on the edges of the kingdom of storms.
Nature was unfair to you."

"Your pity," answered the reed, "is kind, but unnecessary.
I fear not the wind.
I bend without breaking.
You have borne its gusts without flexing your spine.
But wait and see."

And as he spoke, from the distant horizon
came the worst storm the North has ever known.

The oak remained rigid, the reed bent.

Harder, the wind uprooted him whose head touched the sky
and whose feet, the empire of the dead.

NOTE: This version of Jean de La Fontaine interpretation of the Aesop fable, "The Oak and the Reed," is taken from André Téchiné's film Wild Reeds.


Anonymous said...

Hate to rain on your parade, but i think the oak had it right. Oaks can live for over 100 years, many reeds only live one season and none are likely to survive anywhere near as long as an oak tree.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Dear Anonymous Friend,

Thank you for your message.

I think you’re taking the fable of the oak and the reed a little too literally. In the context of this particular fable, each of the characters serve as a metaphor for two very different mindsets – one of hubris and stubbornness (the oak), and one of openness and flexibility (the reed).

Of course, in another context, the image of the oak can been seen to represent strength, resolve, and steadfastness. Understood in this way, I believe we’re called to be both oak and reed at various times throughout our lives. Some circumstances, for instance, may call upon us to stand firm (like the oak), while others may challenge us to be open to new perspectives and experiences and thus be flexible and receptive (like the reed).

My prayer has long been that I may be granted the wisdom to know when to embody each of these responses, and the courage to do so with humility and compassion.

In the context of this blogsite, I obviously use the reed to symbolize the life-affirming response of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people to the reality of their God-given sexuality. The oak, as I see it, represents those who for whatever reason, refuse and resist the reality of homosexuality – a reality that is understood (by both science and human experience) to be an intrinsic and natural part of a certain percent of the human family.

Acknowledgement and acceptance of this fact has been experienced as life-giving for LGBT persons. It facilitates flourishing – within the lives of LGBT persons themselves and, by extension, within the wider community. Healthy and well-adjusted individuals, after all, lead to a healthy and well-adjusted society.

From my experience, those who deny homosexuality – either within themselves or others – lead very unhappy, fragmented, and stagnated lives. Such a way of existence inevitably leads to spiritual death – represented in the fable by the uprooting of the oak.

Finally, I think it’s important to note that it wasn’t the wind (which I see as symbolic of the Spirit of God calling us to ever new and inclusive ways of thinking) which brought about the oak’s downfall, but rather the oak’s own stubbornness and unwillingness to bend; to respond, in other words, to the call of the Spirit.

irsis said...

Yes this is soo true. Being a reed has its' advantages.

Unknown said...

Hi Michael -- can you email me? I would like to chat about other literature & movies that might be of interest. I really enjoyed your interpretation of this fable (and I also loved Wild Reeds)!

Anonymous said...

this first comment is a fail. Oaks can live to be over 1000* year...

Anonymous said...

Michael you had interpreted the poem well. My interpretation is the same with yours.