The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991,2007) pp. 628-631
I have never known any fully mature rowan-trees and so sadly have never encountered in my own experience the description that Bregalad, or Quickbeam as he is called in the Common Tongue, gives of the mighty trees of his youth.
“And these trees grew and grew, till the shadow of each was like a green hall, and their red berries in the autumn were a burden, and a beauty and a wonder.”
I may not have met a fully mature rowan-tree but I do share Bregalad’s love of the rowan and its beauty and I have enjoyed watching birds flock to them later in autumn as other sources of food begin to run scarce. It is a tree that sustains them well into winter and itt is a good tree to plant and grow in a town garden or to see upon a woodland walk in the country.
Merry and Pippin are introduced to Bregalad by Treebeard towards the ending of the first day of Entmoot.
“Are you getting weary, or feeling impatient, hmm, eh?” Treebeard asks. “Well I am afraid that you must not get impatient yet?” This is still only the first day of deliberations that will take three days to conclude. Bregalad has already made up his mind about what to do and needs no more debate and so he is given the task of looking after the young hobbits until all is done.
“I am Bregalad, that is Quickbeam in your language. But it is only a nickname, of course. They have called me that ever since I said yes to an elder Ent before he had finished his question. Also I drink quickly, and go out while some are still wetting their beards.”
The quickness that Merry and Pippin experience in Quickbeam, and which they delight in, is a quickness to sing and to laugh. The very last time we see the friends at the end of The Lord of the Rings as they bid farewell to Sam is as they go off together singing. Bregalad is of the same spirit and so he laughs when the sun comes out from behind a cloud and he laughs whenever he meets a spring or a stream but his singing is subtly different whenever he meets a rowan-tree. He halts a while “with his arms stretched out” and he sings and sways as he sings.
Bregalad is a lover in the sense that he delights in life, and he delights in the life of the forest in particular, and especially in rowan-trees amidst the life of the forest. He takes pleasure in the being-ness of rowan-trees, in the simple fact that they are, and he expresses his delight in his singing. He sings his joy in the beauty of these trees.
O rowan fair, upon your hair how white the blossom lay!
O rowan mine, I saw you shine upon a summer's day,
Your rind so bright, your leaves so light, your voice so cool and soft:
Upon your head how golden-red the crown you bore aloft!
This is a song of praise for the glory of a fellow creature but his song does not end with praise but with lamentation. If, in Derndingle where the Entmoot meets, the mood is of growing anger which will eventually spill forth in songs of war, songs in which Bregalad will join, the mood of the song that he sings to Merry and Pippin is one of the deepest sadness.
O rowan dead, upon your head your hair is dry and grey;
Your crown is spilled, your voice is stilled for ever and a day.
It is not only anger that rouses the Ents against the wanton destruction of Saruman and of the orcs of Isengard but sadness also. And the sadness goes deeper than the anger. With their anger the Ents will “split Isengard into splinters and crack its walls into rubble” but with the sadness that they sing in songs of lament they will labour to heal the land, to renew Fangorn and also to rebuild Isengard making it a place of beauty once again, a place in which earth, air, fire and water can live together in harmony with one another and in which living things that grow and which sustain life can thrive. Bregalad teaches us that we need more than anger if we are to transform the earth. There are other songs to sing than songs of war.