In all seasons the crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) hears Orpheus, and heals
Orpheus with his lute made trees
And the mountain tops that freeze
Bow themselves when he did sing:
To his music plants and flowers
Ever sprung; as sun and showers
There had made a lasting spring.
Every thing that heard him play,
Even the billows of the sea,
Hung their heads and then lay by.
In sweet music is such art
Killing care and grief of heart
Fall asleep, or hearing, die.
Henry VIII – Act III, Scene 1 ~ William Shakespeare
34 thoughts on “Orpheus, Singing”
I love Orpheus singing, especially the one by CW Gluck, when sung by Ms Janet Baker.
The crepe myrtle is in full bloom now here in Sydney. Apart from its beautiful flowers, I love the sculptural quality of its trunks and branches.
Her final operatic performance was in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, in 1982. I found a video of that performance; it’s wondrous.
It will be a while before we see buds, let alone blooms, but as you say, the bare trunks are striking in their own way. They’re not often noticed when the foliage and flowers come along, but they’re quite a treat at this time of year.
I was hoping you would put this music up, Linda. I listen to this lovely music each time I feel a need to avoid sombreness or the abyss of melancholia.
Beautiful music indeed.
A lovely small tree for home gardens or as a street tree. I was once tasked with pruning a branch from one and oh my, the timber on an old one is incredibly hard and dense. I could only respect its stubbornness.
This tree’s wound looks most intriguing. I love how you’ve made the match of image and words and music.
The tree’s in a spot where I often park my car, and I found myself thinking of the little round feature as the sort of medallion we see on historic homes: perhaps saying something like, “In 2002, this limb was lost in the Battle of the Overzealous Landscapers.” Then, I came across this snippet of poetic song, and the match was made.
There’s still a tendency here to prune crepe myrtles by shearing off their tops, particularly where they’ve been used in commercial plantings. One of our garden centers has a huge sign near their cash registers that says, “Don’t Murder Your Crepe Myrtles!”
Orpheus is a good healer.
And in some cases, even the scars that are left are attractive, like this one.
Yes, I am quite fond of some of my own scars. They are part of our story.
I know nothing of Orpheus, but I am all too familiar with crepe murder. There are few of them in my neighborhood that are allowed to grow as trees (and most are in my yard). At 30 ft tall, they are fantastic summer shade on the south side of my home.
What a neat medallion you found on that one. Good eye, Linda.
Orpheus was known for his music. In mythology, Apollo was his father and the Muse Calliope was his mother. He mastered the lyre he received as a boy immediately, and, according to the myth, neither gods nor mortals could resist his music. Even rocks and trees would move nearer to listen.
Eventually, he met Eurydice, and the story of that relationship is Romeo and Juliet-ish, with a dash of Lot’s wife thrown in. There’s a really well-done, short TED-Ed video that tells the story here.
We have some beautiful large crepe myrtles around our area, but most I’ve seen are in parks or public gardens. On the other hand, it’s clear that more and more people are allowing them to grow, and are pruning them with a little more thought. May their number increase!
I can’t remember ever seeing something quite like that scar that was left when the branch was removed. It really is striking.
A boating club came down our canal years ago – – steam- and early gasoline-powered pleasure boats, mostly from around Lake Ontario and the 1,000 Islands. One of them had a “steam calliope” and I swear my ears are still ringing! :)
Steam calliopes are wonderful. There used to be a vintage boat around here that would cruise around on special occasions, like July 4th, playing patriotic tunes on its calliope. I haven’t heard it for several years, but it was quite a delight when it still was active.
Sometime it would be nice to ride on one of those Mississippi paddlewheelers, they send ads to our house, it looks great.
I have a friend who took a river cruise down the Mississippi on one of those, from Minnesota to St. Louis, I think, and she said it was wonderful, with plenty of on-shore stops along the way. No calliope, though.
This is beautiful, Linda. It doesn’t even look like a scar. Oh, that our body scars looked that good. And music is a healer, this I know. Shakespeare nailed it, didn’t he?
It just occurred to me that the scar looks a bit like one of your rosettes, Jeanie. I don’t think it would be as tasty, but it’s certainly as attractive.
As for the healing power of music, there’s no question about that. Which sort of music heals varies from time to time (I once went through a period when Bon Jovi was my healer of choice) but music is music: powerful, enjoyable, engaging. And, yes: Shakespeare did have a way of describing these things.
Names in mythology are typically not what we would think of as names today, but rather descriptions of those mythological characters. For example, Pandora is ‘all gifts.’ I checked to see where Orpheus might come from. The American Heritage Dictionary says it might come from an Indo-European root that meant “to turn, with derivatives referring to change of allegiance or status.” If so, Orpheus would mean ‘he who goes to the other side’ or ‘he who turns.’
In fact, he did both: crossing over to the underworld in search of Eurydice, and then turning to look behind just a little too soon on his way back. Of course, in the end he could turn to look at his beloved as often as he wished.
Now I’m wondering if that same root underlies turncoat. I think it surely must, although I’ve never thought about the word beyond the action it describes: turning a coat inside out to disguise or change allegiance.
I just noticed I copied and pasted a typo in the dictionary’s entry (there’s a repetition of change). The Indo-European root is orbh-, which you can see if you scroll down a bit at
So while turncoat doesn’t come from that, some other interesting words do. Merriam-Webster says the first known use of turncoat was in 1557.
I read past the second change without noticing it. Interesting how we so often read what’s supposed to be in a piece of text, rather than what’s there.
I was surprised to find orb and orbit in the list of words, but after some thought, orbit being related to a “rut, track made by a wheel” makes sense. It also brought to mind the song about Ezekiel’s vision of the wheels. I still remember most of those lyrics, but Woody Guthrie’s version is more interesting than what we sang at camp.
What beautiful bark crepe myrtles have! Mine must be a different variety for they’re more bush than tree, more’s the pity. I’ve tried to prune them into a tree shape, but they insist on being bushy. I guess I’m fortunate they even grow this far north.
I’ve seen overzealous pruning of crepe myrtles down south, though, and it’s enough to make you weep. I wonder if the marking on this tree is the result of that?
The one I showed here is tree-sized, about 12′ to 15′ tall, but multi-trunked. Even the largest down here often are allowed to develop with multiple trunks, and the scar left on this one obviously was the result of trimming a lower branch, as it’s only about three feet above the ground. The ones around my place never have been topped. In fact, they’re allowed to keep their seed pods through the winter, and the migrating goldfinches and other birds love them, and will hang on them to get at the seed.
I wonder if your shorter growing season has made it harder for you to move beyond bushy, or if you have a variety that prefers “shrubness.” In any event, it flowers for you, and that’s the important thing.
So true, and our birds love those seed pods! One year I tried to collect just a few of them and replant them in a different location. I’d read that you can grow another crepe myrtle from the seed pods. Sadly, it didn’t work for me (at least, so far — I’m not giving up all hope yet!)
“Even rocks and trees would move nearer to listen.” I love this description. How much more beautifully could you play? The crepe myrtle bark reminds me a bit of madrone bark. Oregon myrtle is a common tree in our area but is a different species. Beautiful wooden dishes, bowls and other carvings are made from the wood. –Curt
I hadn’t thought of the similarity to madrone, but you’re right. Those are beautiful trees, too — particularly their color. I wondered if your myrtle might be related to our wax myrtle, but it’s a firm no on that. They’re not only different genera, yours grows only in California and Oregon: which you surely knew, and now I do, too.
Isn’t it fun to think of rocks, trees, stars, and seas as Orpheus’s groupies?
Ha, I guess that makes Orpheus a rock star. :)
The image is fascinating and very surreal. After hurricane Irma in FL, there were several Lagerstroemia indica branches on the ground, and the wood is used for woodturning and other crafts. Its bark is also tri-colored, at least the ones here are.
Some of the larger trees here seem to have more color in their bark. There seems to be a difference in shaggy vs. smooth, too, although that might be due to any number of causes.
You’re the second person who’s mentioned using the wood for crafts. I’ve never heard of that, but of course there’s so much walnut, cherry, pecan, mesquite, and post oak here that it keeps the wood turners and furniture builders happy.
I do like this image. It’s rather amazing that it’s in my parking lot.
I just saw a YouTube video and the wood is not good for turning very large items. It’s only good for smaller things. I grabbed a branch to do something with it but it was green and it’s still drying outside. It’s considered a ‘semi-hardwood’. There are many trees here in FL, and larger ones, but in P.R. there was a ’dwarf’ variety.
The analogy of ‘Orpheus, Singing’ with the tree’s scar is very nice. It’s amazing how trees form scars too, and this image is witness to this phenomenon. Its texture and pattern reflect that ‘healing’ referred to in Shakespeare’s play with Orpheus.
Scars are interesting. Not all are as attractive as this one, but they all have stories. I still carry scars from a high school water skiing accident, and from a friend’s suddenly not-so-friendly cockatoo who decided to take a bite of my hand. As for those internal scars? We know they exist, too — and they can be treasured as evidence of life experiences, as well.
I love crepe myrtles, scars and all. I have a white one in my yard but there’s two watermelon colored ones next door, one of which overhangs my flower bed by the parking pad. Lovely in summer bloom and abstract trunks in winter provide interest year round.
BTW, ours are already budding out.
Isn’t it interesting how the bloom schedule differs from place to place? My contention is that my area is a few weeks ahead of other parts of the state not only because we’re farther south, but also because of our lower altitude, and all the water around us. You’re in the same situation, I would think, with the moderating effects of the bays and ocean keeping things just enough warmer to let spring emerge sooner.
Speaking of spring, that means birds as well as flowers. If you haven’t seen this, it ought to interest you. Just think — I can enter Charleston as a search term and see — and hear — all of your birds!
A very sad love story indeed, and fodder for a lot of creative art. The Waterhouse painting comes to mind https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nymphs_finding_the_Head_of_Orpheus.jpg . My mom’s neighbor has some crepe myrtles and is treating them right Many people think they are supposed to be a bush/shrub, and to be bushy, but they are trees, and do provide beautiful shade.
I enjoy Waterhouse’s work generally, but I’d not seen this painting; he did have a knack for rendering gristly scenes with great beauty.
The big crepe myrtles are some of our best trees, if they’ve been cared for properly. There is a pair at the entrance to a park on Nasa Road One that are as large as any I’ve seen. In the summer, they show the trees’ potential. Crepe Myrtle: they’re not just for suburban medians any more.