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The Old Oak-Tree at Hatfield Broadoak
A MIGHTY growth! The countyside Lamented when the giant died, For England loves her trees: What misty legends round him cling! How lavishly he once did fling His acorns to the breeze! To strike a thousand roots in fame, To give the district half its name, The fiat could not hinder; Last spring he put forth one green bough,— The red leaves hang there still,—but now His very props are tinder. Elate, the thunderbolt he braved; Long centuries his branches waved A welcome to the blast: An oak of broadest girth he grew, And woodman never dared to do What time has done at last. The monarch wore a leafy crown, And wolves, ere wolves were hunted down, Found shelter at his foot; Unnumbered squirrels gambolled free, Glad music filled the gallant tree From stem to topmost shoot. And it were hard to fix the tale Of when he first peered forth a frail Petitioner for dew; He took no ill from Saxon spade, The rabbit spared the tender blade, And valiantly he grew, And showed some inches from the ground When Saint Augustine came and found Us very proper Vandals; When nymphs owned bluer eyes than hose, When England measured men by blows, And measured time by candles. Worn pilgrims blessed his grateful shade Ere Richard led the first crusade, And maidens led the dance Where, boy and man, in summer time, Sweet Chaucer pondered o’er his rhyme; And Robin Hood, perchance, Stole hither to maid Marian (And if they did not come, one can At any rate suppose it); They met beneath the mistletoe,— We did the same, and ought to know The reason why they chose it. And this was called the traitors’ branch,— Stern Warwick hung six yeomen stanch Along its mighty fork; Uncivil wars for them! The fair Red rose and white still bloom,—but where Are Lancaster and York? A churchman once was England’s hope, He saw that bold man beard the Pope; In persecution’s reign He mourned our martyrs at the stake, And sent his kin to sea with Drake, When Tudor humbled Spain. A time-worn tree, he could not bring His heart to screen the merry king, Or countenance his scandals; Then men were measured by their wit, And then the mimic statesmen lit At either end their candles. When Blake was busy with the Dutch They gave his poor old arms a crutch; And thrice four maids and men ate A meal within his rugged bark, When Coventry bewitched the park, And Chatham swayed the senate. His few remaining boughs were green, And dappled sunbeams danced between, Upon the dappled deer, When, clad in black, a pair were met To read the Waterloo Gazette,— They mourned their darling here. They joined their boy. The tree at last Lies prone,—discoursing of the past, Some fancy-dreams awaking, Resigned, though headlong changes come, Though nations arm to tuck of drum, And dynasties are quaking. Romantic spot! By honest pride Of eld tradition sanctified; My pensive vigil keeping, I feel thy beauty like a spell, And thoughts, and tender thoughts, upwell, That fill my heart to weeping.
Frederick Locker-Lampson's other poems:
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