Alan Paton wrote Cry, The Beloved Country in about 1947. He hadn’t been planning to write a book when he went on a world tour visiting reformatories, but in Norway his heart was full and he started what became a whole novel before he returned to South Africa after his sabbatical.
A few years later he found himself again in California, where the last words of Cry had been set down, and this time he was supposed to be working on a second novel, staying in a cabin alone under and among the towering redwoods, when he wrote this modern psalm. I hope I can write more about it later, but I can’t wait to share the poem itself with you and tell you that it is one more thing that endears me to this man. I will let him introduce it as he does in Journey Continued, which is the second volume of his autobiography:
“…It is called ‘A Psalm of the Forest,’ the forest being that of Lane’s Flat, but the actual trees of the poem, and the monkeys that played in them, being imported from Africa.”
A Psalm of the Forest
By Alan Paton
I have seen my Lord in the forest, He goes from tree to tree laying His hands upon them.
The yellowwoods stand upright and proud that He comes amongst them, the chestnut throws down blooms at His feet.
The thorns withdraw their branches before Him, they will not again be used shamefully against Him.
The wild fig makes a shade for Him, and no more denies Him.
The monkeys chatter and skip about in the branches, they peer at Him from behind their fingers,
They shower Him with berries and fruits, they shade the owls from their hiding places,
They stir the whole forest, they screw up their faces,
They say to each other unceasingly, It is the Lord.
The mothers cuff their children, and elder brothers the younger,
But they jump from tree to tree before Him, they bring down the leaves like rain,
Nothing can bring them to order, they are excited to see the Lord.
And the winds move in the upper branches, they dash them like cymbals together,
They gather from all the four corners, and the waterfalls shout and thunder,
The whole forest is filled with roaring, with an acknowledgement, an exaltation.