Cedar of God

They beheld the Cedar mountain, abode of the God,
Throne-seat of Irnini.
From the face of the mountain
The Cedars raise aloft their luxuriance.
Good is their shade,
full of delight.

                                           Epic of Gilgamesh [1]

There is a majestic Cedar of Lebanon in the Van Vleck Gardens at Montclair. This tree that could potentially attain a grand height of 140 feet and a diameter of 8 feet, has a rough scaly bark which is dark grey to blackish brown, marked by deep fissures. [2] The crown of this beauty, conical when young, now sports level branches. There were cones at the ends of the shoots when I saw it yesterday. 

I was quite disheartened to learn that these Cedars, native to Lebanon, barely survive in a vulnerable patch at Bsharri in Lebanon, in a copse a few hundred meters across, which in earlier times stretched hundreds of kilometers, as noted by Paleontologist  Mike Pole in 2016 [3]

Cedrus libani, a true Cedar that belongs to the family Pinaceae, is an evergreen, has medicinal uses and wood prized for its fine grain, attractive yellow colour, fragrance, exceptional durability and immunity to insect ravages [2].

In the Mesopotamian epic of Gilgamesh, both Gilgamesh and Enkidu travel to the Lebanon Mountain to cut these Cedars (which can be traced back to 3 BC). I am not sure how heroic such an act of deforestation was, which included the killing of the radiant guardian of the Cedar forest, the giant demon Humbaba, renowned for his terrifying, supernatural powers, whose severed head was then affixed to a cedar door and sent to the temple of Enlil, king of the gods [4].

Even if there are fewer Cedars of God at Bsharri [5], the tree survives as the national emblem of Lebanon and in the logo of Middle East Airlines, Lebanon’s national carrier. It also graciously lent its support to Lebanon’s ‘Cedar Revolution’ of 2005 [2]

Widely used as an ornamental tree in parks and gardens, I have always admired this magnificent specimen at Montclair and figured it deserved a poem.

Cedar of God

The grand soliloquy of a stately tree
is simply an intifada* of shoots and leaves.

The grenades explode someplace loamy 
or sandy clay, as scaly cones germinate 

the Earth, in a sparkling resistance against
the vagaries of once divine deforestation.

A Cedar in Lebanon disappears like time,
in a crown lost to Gilgamesh and then to

rainbow revolutions. Needles spiral forth
marking the epoch in severed limbs and souls

knowing nothing is lost to fate except the 
omnipotence of man. Simply immortal, is the tree.


Intifada ~ Arabic intifāḍa, literally, the act of shaking off, rebellion, uprising (Merriam-Webster)