The Old Tree in Norbury Park.


The Poet.

Come forth from thine encircling bole,1
O Dryad of the Tree !2
That stands upon the grassy knowle,3
The pride of all the lea.4
Thy home is stately to behold,5
And, measured by its rings,6
Has flourish’d on the breezy world7
For eighteen hundred springs ;8
For eighteen hundred years has drunk9
The balm the skies contain,10
And fed its broad imperial trunk11
With sunshine and the rain.12
At least, so learned gardeners guess,13
And prove it to themselves14
By woodman’s craft, and more or less15
Book-knowledge from their shelves.16
And if thou’st lived but half as long,17
There’s much thou must have seen,18
Which thou couldst whisper in a song,19
From all thy branches green !20
Come, then ; obedient to my call,21
With eyes of flashing light,22
Agile, and debonnaire, and tall,23
And pleasant to the sight !24
I’ll listen, if thou wilt but talk,25
And follow through thy speech26
Tradition’s visionary walk,27
And all that histories teach.28
And looking up the stream of Time,29
Where bygone centuries frown,30
Will strive, with arrogance sublime,31
To look as far adown.32


The Tree.

When first I sprouted from the Earth,33
Imperial Rome was young ;34
And ere I had a strong man’s girth,35
Her knell of doom had rung.36
A Roman warrior planted me37
On this sequestered hill ;38
And Rome’s a dream of History,39
While I am stalwart still.40
Beneath my young o’erarching boughs41
The Druids oft have stray’d ;42
And painted Britons breathed their vows,43
Love-smitten in the shade.44
When good King Alfred foil’d the Dane,45
I flourished where I stand ;46
When Harold fell, untimely slain,47
And strangers filch’d the land,48
I cast my shadow on the grass,49
And yearly, as I grew,50
Beheld the village maidens pass51
Light-footed o’er the dew.52
I saw the Red Rose and the White53
Do battle for the crown,54
And in the sanguinary fight55
Mow men like harvests down.56
And as the work of Life and Death57
Went on o’er all the realm,58
I stood unharmed, no axe to scathe,59
No flood to overwhelm.60
The teeming people lived and died,61
The people great and free ;62
And years, like ripples on the tide,63
Flowed downwards to the sea,64
Yet seemed to me, outlasting all,65
To leave their work behind,66
And make their notches, great and small,67
Of progress for mankind ;68
Though oft the growth of happier time69
Seemed slow and sorely wrought,70
And noble actions failed to climb71
The heights of noble Thought.72
But let me be of hopeful speech !73
I feel that Time shall bring74
To men and nations, all and each,75
The renovating spring !76


The Poet.

Well said, old Tree !  We’ll look before,77
And seek not to recall78
The stories of the days of yore,79
So melancholy all.80
Ah no !  we’ll rather strive to think,81
If yet, five hundred years,82
Thou’rt left to stand upon the brink,83
Amid thy younger peers,84
What thoughts and deeds, both linked in birth,85
Shall work to mighty ends,86
Amid the nations of the Earth,87
The foemen and the friends ;88
What changes Fate shall slowly launch89
On Time’s unresting river ;90
What little germs take root and branch,91
And flourish green for ever ;92
What struggling nations shall be great,93
What great ones shall be small,94
Or whether Europe, courting Fate,95
Shall crumble to its fall.96
Perchance, if any chance there be97
In God’s eternal plan,98
There may evolve new History,99
And nobler life for man.100
Such hopes be ours—the high, the deep,101
O Spirit of the Tree !102
And yet, I think, Id like to sleep103
For centuries two or three,104
To learn, when wakened into light,105
What marvels had been done106
Since I had bidden Time good-night,107
And quarrel’d with the sun :108
To learn if England, growing yet,109
Still held her ancient place ;110
Or if her brilliant star had set111
In splendour or disgrace :112
To learn if Empire travelling West,113
Beyond old Ocean’s links,114
Had marched from Better into Best,115
And riddled out the Sphynx ;116
Re-reading with acuter gloss117
Time’s puzzles downwards cast,118
And reconciling gain with loss,119
The Future with the Past :120
To learn if Earth, more deftly wrought,121
Could nurture all her brood ;122
With utmost sustenance of Thought,123
And pabulum of food :124
Or, coming down to smaller aims,125
To know if full-grown Steam126
Had stitched the Hudson to the Thames,127
As tailors would a seam ;128
Or whether men, who walk and swim,129
Had learned to float and fly,130
And imitate the cherubim,131
Careering through the sky.132
Or whether Chemistry had packed133
The lightning into gems,134
For girls to wear amid their hair,135
Like regal diadems ;136
Or whether, noblest birth of Time !137
The creed that Jesus taught138
Had gathered in its fold sublime139
All human life and thought.140
Alas !  O Spirit of the Tree !141
Thy days are fair and long,142
And mine too short to hope to see143
The issues of my song.144
Yet Hope is long, and Hopes are strong,145
And grow to what they seem,146
And help to shape the coming years,147
O Dryad of my dream !148