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Project 661 Anchar - Derevo Smerti

Anchar is a spicy preserve: a pungent pickle made of mango, lemon, and ginger, used in South Asian and Caribbean cooking. This is not what is meant here. Possibly it just means "anchor".

"The Upas-Tree" by Pushkin is a poem that has been frequently commented on and set to music. Anchar - Derevo Smerti (Anchar, the Tree of Death) was written by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. In Russian, Anchar is the Upas tree, a poison tree [antiaris toxicaria, or "Ipoh tree"]. Antiaris toxicaria is notorious as a poison for arrows, darts, and blowdarts. Upas (Malay, 'poison') is the name given to various vegetable poisons in the Indian Archipelago, including some kinds of Strychnos. But that best known under this name is the arrow poison prepared from the gum that exudes from incisions in the stem of the Antjar or Anchar tree (Antiaris toxicaria), a large tree belonging to the Artocarpaceie.

About the year 1775, a certain Dutch surgeon called Foersch, who had traveled much in Java, came back and wrote a book, in which he described some curious things he had seen. Unscrupulous travelers, in the time when Surgeon Foersch lived, could take great license of description. Foersch published an account of the Upas poison valley of Java; so grave and circumstantial that, extraordinary as the testimony was, people did not hesitate to accept it. So many little details were given, that every statement made had the quality of local coloring, as an artist would say; and one could hardly refuse to believe it. Somewhere in the far recesses of Java there was, according to Foersch, a dreadful tree, the poisonous secretions of which are so virulent, that they not only kill by contact, but poison the air for several miles around, so that the greater number of those who approach the vegetable monster are killed. Nothing whatever, he wrote, can grow within several miles of the upas-tree, except some little trees of the same species.

The portentous tales current in Europe, especially towards the end of the 16th century, and set forth in Erasmus Darwin's "Loves of the Plants" are mostly baseless inventions - as for example that the atmosphere for miles round a upas tree was deadly to all animal life, and that no other vegetation could flourish near one. It is true that when a tree is felled or its bark much bruised an effluvium issues acrid enough to cause cutaneous eruptions. And it has been suggested as an explanation of the fantastic stories that upas trees grow in a Javanese valley where carbonic acid, in quantities dangerous to animal life, issues from the volcanic soil, as in the Grotto del Cane Cane, in the vicinity of Naples.

But the tree has no such powers. The legend has served, however, to make the Upas Tree the symbol of anything which yields a deadly influence. "It is a poison-tree, that pierced to the inmost, Weeps only tears of poison." Coleridge

In 1828 Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (1799-1837) wrote his famous poem "Ancar," usually rendered in English as "The Upas Tree". Pushkin is said to have emancipated the Russian language from its adolescent conventions and achieved a simplicity directness of speech and imagery that have few parallels outside the language of ancient Greece.

Deep in the desert's misery,
far in the fury of the sand,
there stands the awesome Upas Tree
lone watchman of a lifeless land.

"Anchar - drevo smerti", op. 49 no. 1 (1882-1897) was written by Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908). The editing of Moussorgsky's works continued for some considerable time to occupy almost the whole of Rimsky-Korsakof's attention; the only creative work undertaken during this period was the preliminary sketch for a piano concerto and the setting of Pushkin's "Upas Tree," publication of which was delayed for many years. Rimsky-Korsakof's choral works did not meet with any great success. "Svitezyanka," "The Doom of Oleg " (based on Pushkin's poem), a setting of the same poet's " Upas Tree," and the revolutionary song "Doubinoushka," prompted by the events of 1905, were all performed in Russia. Their failure is ascribed by their composer to a want of interest in such compositions.

In a story called The Anchar, an aristocratic man without helm or compass, and a girl from Little Russia, a beautiful character, fall in love with each other; and the same infirmity of purpose destroys both. This is one of the tales in which Ivan Tourgueneff's wonderful power of chiseling, if we may so express it, the female character, is best displayed. The title of the story is taken from that of a poem by Pushkin called The Anchar, a kind of upas-tree that bears poisonous fruit: even the French translation of this poem gives a wonderful idea of the power of the poet.

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Page last modified: 16-05-2019 18:50:55 ZULU