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Poem by Frederick Locker-Lampson

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 oer 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 Englands hope,
He saw that bold man beard the Pope;
  In persecutions 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

Frederick Locker-Lampson's other poems:
  1. My Firstborn
  2. St Georges, Hanover Square
  3. The Russet Pitcher
  4. The Cradle
  5. Phœbe, the Nymph of the Well

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