There are so many Green Men – so many sorts, in so many places.
The strange image of greenery – not just leaves, but stems and stalks, tendrils, roots, branches and even hawthorn berries and bunches of grapes – growing from a face continues to intrigue.
Some authorities try to classify them. Here’s one that describes four types.
First and most simply, the (normal) head that peeps through foliage – which might be thought of as Jack in the Green, Puck or even Pan himself.
Next, the face from whose mouth greenery emerges.
Then, the one in which eyes, ears, nostrils are also exit points for vegetable growth.
And lastly, the foliate head, where the whole face turns into, has become leaves.
But such classifications tend to break down under unstoppable green power.
There are faces with leaves growing from the forehead or sides of the nose, heads whose luxuriant hair is turning into twigs and branches, or beards become leaves, happy and tranquil faces along with the tormented (how would I feel if plants were emerging from each corner of my mouth?) and transforming faces that are already part animal, or even devil.
So we are left with our unanswered questions – wondering about fertility symbols, representations of the great pattern of life and death in which all living materials are recycled, the close association of human life with plant life, a disquieting premonitory awareness in the medieval mind that we are no more than containers of and home to huge populations of lower order life forms…
In our present troubled times the silent Green Man, unable to speak to us, would no doubt have much to say. But speech has necessarily turned into foliage.
O Lord open thou our lips is chanted… who knows what may happen next?
Still, here we are again at the beginning of May, celebrating the outburst of Spring, bringing its spirit of resurrection and explosion of potent fertility, with the promise of future fruitfulness. Whatever the title given to this moment – Beltane, Easter and many another long lost in history – the Green Man sprouts his fresh green shoots which appear unexpectedly on the wood, in the stone, through the glass, upon the clay, perhaps even from the flesh, while we were turned away.
The Green Man lives – again.
Silent leaves unroll to grow
a face offers opportunities
The green flame flickers on
bare wood. Fresh life springs
from stone while the head I own
turns for a moment.
Crevices for roots to burrow
deep. In cool thought
from eye and ear sensations billow
leaf-like life ignites.
Through opened lips a flow
of ancient praises
expressed through foliage as
faces come and go.