The Dwarf and the Oak Tree.

A Vision of 1850.


Within the greenwood as I walked,1
Upon a summer’s day,2
I saw a vision wonderful,3
That filled me with dismay.4
Beneath the spreading shadow5
Of a tall and stately tree,6
Was a band of porkers gathered,7
Grunting fierce as fierce could be.8
They were rough and bristly monsters,9
With an aspect most obscene ;10
And they trampled to a dunghill11
All the fair and comely green.12
Hideous tusks, and sharply whetted,13
Did the savage creatures bear ;14
And their flanks were thick incrusted15
With the droppings of their lair.16


Above the mighty branches spread17
From out the parent stem ;18
And lo !  I saw a Mannikin19
High perched on one of them.20
His face was pale, his cheeks were white ;21
He sate in utter woe ;22
It seemed he durst not venture down,23
For fear of those below.24
But anon he shook the branches,25
And down the acorns fell,26
And then the beasts rushed forward,27
Each with a horrid yell.28
Right sharp and savage was the grunt,29
Though plentiful the food :30
So sate the lonely Mannikin31
Within the lonely wood.32


But as I tarried, wondering much33
To see the little man,34
A gleam of light came o’er his face,35
It seemed some cunning plan36
Rose up within him, for he grinned37
And nodded to himself,38
Then grinned again and chuckled,39
Like a sly and naughty elf.40
And then I marked him, stealthily41
From out his belt withdraw42
A weapon in the morning light,43
That glittered like a saw ;44
And straight astride a heavy branch45
Right nimbly clambered he46
And sawed away most busily,47
Between him and the tree !48


Then longer from accosting him49
I could not well forbear50
What, ho, thou foolish Mannikin !51
What art thou doing there ?52
A little deeper, and ’tis plain53
The branch must downward go,54
And down with it the carpenter55
Unto the beasts below !”56
Then answered back the Mannikin57
Aha !  I’m light and strong :58
You’ll see me scramble higher up,59
And higher yet ere long.60
But first this branch I sever, just61
To please the hungry swine ;62
And then I’ll lop another off—63
For that’s a scheme of mine !”64


Forbear, thou naughty Mannikin !”65
Twas thus again I spoke66
Who was’t gave thee the liberty67
To lop that stately oak ? :68
In strength and glory it hath stood69
A thousand years and more,70
Still spreading forth its mighty arms,71
As proudly as of yore.72
What tree hath ever matched it yet73
For majesty of form ?74
Or yielded such a sure defence75
From heat, or rain, or storm ?76
Though tempests often round it swept,77
It still hath bravely stood,78
Nor ever stooped its shapely crest—79
That monarch of the wood !80


And thou, an ape-like atomy,81
Perched up within the tree !82
Shall its fair limbs be lopped away83
By such a dwarf as thee ?”84
Yet chattered still the Mannikin—85
Down, down, the branch must go !86
The pigs demand the sacrifice—87
They’re watching me below.88
See—see !  they’re grunting upwards ! ah,89
They bare their tusks at me !90
For rather than offend my swine91
I would uproot the tree.92
Hush—hush, my darlings ! Hush, my dears ?93
Here’s plenty food for you94
A moment’s patience, and ’tis done ;95
The branch is nearly through !”96


Have done, thou wicked Mannikin,97
And hold that hand of thine ;98
I marvel what Ulysses ’twas99
Set thee to keep the swine !100
If from that noble forest-tree101
Thou loppest every shoot,102
Where, when another autumn comes,103
Will be the needful fruit ?104
’Tis well to feed thy bristly herd,105
Ay, feed them to the fill ;106
But leave the oak-tree unprofaned107
With all its branches still :108
Lest, when the swine have eaten all109
The food that thou canst send,110
They take a horrid fancy next,111
To dine on thee, my friend !”112


’Twas thus I spoke in warning. Still113
The Mannikin said, “ Nay !”114
But ever chattered busily,115
And ever sawed away.116
I marked the branch declining fast,117
Its fibres creaking sore :118
I heard the grunting of the beasts119
Still fiercer than before.120
High up into the air was thrown121
Each grim uncleanly snout,122
With wriggling tails and cloven hoofs123
They galloped all about.124
They flung the mire and pebbles up,125
In their unholy glee,126
And held a Satan’s carnival127
Beneath the fated tree !128


But as I gazed in wonderment,129
The sky grew dark above ;130
A whirlwind sharp and fitfully131
Among the branches drove ;132
There was swaying, shrieking, groaning,133
Throughout the forest wide,134
And the hurricane came downward135
With an angry angel’s stride.136
Then, right across the welkin, shot137
The red and dazzling levin,138
And the thunder brattled growlingly139
Within the dome of heaven.140
’Twere better in an hour like that141
Far off at home to be,142
Than watching silly Mannikins143
Upon the greenwood tree !144


The first flash scared the porkers ;145
Their nasal snort grew still146
The second sent them cowering ;147
As low-bred monsters will148
The third with triple fervency,149
And answering peal broke out ;150
Then helter-skelter from the tree151
Rushed forth the filthy rout.152
looked up for my Mannikin—153
I saw him clinging there154
To branch and twig, to bark and bough,155
The image of despair.156
And ever as the gust blew strong,157
He clutched with desperate paw,158
And wildly-chattered in affright—159
The foul fiend take the saw !”160


By Tamworth town a hermit dwells,161
Who riddles strange can read ;162
A wizard once of dreaded power,163
And versed in many a creed.164
Of Michael Scott no wilder tales165
Have ever yet been told :166
Men say he knew the wondrous art167
Of multiplying gold.168
But now his magic wand is broke,169
His tricksy spirits gone,170
And on a backward bench he sits,171
Forsaken and alone.172
To him I went, and told him straight173
The things that I had seen !174
O holy man, I pray thee say,175
What may this vision mean ?”176


The hermit smiled—he stroked his chin—177
Then quaintly answered he,178
There’s something very singular179
Connected with that tree !180
Once on a time, when bark was dear,181
The boughs I thought to peel,182
But that same hurricane arose183
And tossed me head o’er heel.184
I think the oak will last my time—185
But hark ! I hear the bell !”186
With his left hand he crossed himself,187
Then slid into his cell.188
But what the herd of porkers were,189
He never told to me ;190
Nor who might be the mannikin191
Was sawing at the tree.192