Michael Gilleland has a characteristically elegant and graceful post up under the title of “Under the Greenwood Tree,” where he calls together an array of classical texts on the theme of, well, of sitting under a tree.
It’s a genre almost impossible to contain and he was wise to limit himself to a few classical examples. Eve ate from the tree of knowledge; we flourish like the green bay tree; “Even as are the generations of leaves such are those likewise of men;” (Homer, Iliad: Lang, Leaf and Myers trans.); and I got my ’65 Mustang rebuilt by a “shade tree mechanic.”
Michael (quoting) recalls the Guatama dispensing wisdom from under a Bo Tree. One of my favorites in the genre may be a riff on the Guatama. It is the scene in William Faulkner’s novel The Hamlet, where the Justice of the Peace presides—or attempts to preside—over law-as-theatre in
[T]he wagons, the buggies and the saddled horses and mules … moved out of the village on that May Saturday morning, to converge upon Whiteleaf store eight miles away, coming not only from Frenchman’s Bend but from other directions too… . So by the time the Frenchman’s Bend people began to arrive, there were two dozen wagons, the teams reversed and eased of harness and tied to the rear wheels in order to pass the day, and twice that many saddled animals already standing about the locust grove beside the store and the site of the hearing had already been transferred from the store to an adjacent shed where in the fall cotton would be stored. But by nine oclock it was seen that even the shed would not hold them all, so the palladium was moved again, from the shed to the grove itself. The horses and mules and wagons were cleared from it; the single chair, the gnawed table bearing a thick bible which had the appearance of loving and constant use of a piece of old and perfectly-kept machinery and an almanac and a copy of Mississippi Reports dated 1881 and bearing along its opening edge as single thread-thin line of soilure as if during all the time of his possession its owner (or user) had opened it at only one page though that quite often, were fetched from the shed to the grove; a wagon and four men were dispatched and returned presently from the church a mile away with four wooden pews for the litigants and their clansmen and witnesses; behind these in turn the spectators stood—the men, the women, the children, sober, attentive, and neat. Not in their Sunday clothes to be sure, but in the clean working garments donned that morning for the Saturday’s diversion of sitting about the country store or trips into the county seat, and in which they would return to the field on Monday morning and would wear all that week until Friday night came round again. The Justice of the Peace was a neat, small, plump old man resembling a tender caricature of all grandfathers who ever breathed, iin a beautifully laundered though collarless white shirt with immaculate starch-gleaming cuffs and bosom, and steel-framed spectacles and neat, faintly curling hair. He sat looking at them…
--William Faulkner, The Hamlet 356-7
(Vintage International ed. 1991)
For my money, this is pure Faulkner, mesmerizing, but stopping just a gnat’s crotchet short of self-parody. The whole story combines lyric charm with falling-down comedy—funny enough, I think, to rank with the very best of Mark Twain and, of course, the very best of Faulkner himself.