Tuesday, March 27, 2012

From the Classics: Bleeding Myrtle

There, while I went to crop the sylvan scenes,
And shade our altar with their leafy greens,
I pull'd a plant - with horror I relate
A prodigy so strange and full of fate.
The rooted fibers rose, and from the wound
Black bloody drops distill'd upon the ground.
Scarce dare I tell the sequel: from the womb
Of wounded earth, and caverns of the tomb,
A groan, as of a troubled ghost, renew'd
My fright, and then these dreadful words ensued:
'Why dost thou thus my buried body rend?
O spare the corpse of thy unhappy friend!
Spare to pollute thy pious hands with blood:
The tears distil not from the wounded wood;
But ev'ry drop this living tree contains
Is kindred blood, and ran in Trojan veins.'
- Virgil, Aeneid

The bleeding myrtle is a strange plant that generally grows only on distant isles. When given the chance to spread further afield, it seems to favour the sites of great battles or other slaughters. When planted over a grave site, the bleeding myrtle can give them speech from beyond the wall of sleep. The soul can only be compelled to speak by picking the leaves of the myrtle, which draws blood and causes the trapped spirit much pain.
Some unhappy folk, unable to cope with the loss of loved ones, cultivate graves of bleeding myrtle to converse with the reluctant shades. It is said that a certain noble lady has an entire garden of the plant, wherein each of her female ancestors for eighteen generations are buried.
Others covet the plant for more practical reasons. The dead keep with them many kinds of useful information. Even one who was an enemy in life can be forced to answer questions if one is willing to pluck cruelly at the bleeding leaves. Once all the leaves are picked, however, the plant wilts and the trapped soul departs forever.

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