This poem grew like the oak – slowly, unevenly and to a much bigger size than I envisaged. I fought to write it in blank verse but the rhymes just kept asserting themselves so, in the end, I let them have their way. The poem is nothing like I intended it to be and it leaves me feeling strangely uneasy. Perhaps I need to go and sit under the tree and read it.
The Wyre Oak
I heard tell of a timeless oak
That for centuries has stood
By a long-forgotten path
Where once, they say, there was a wood.
The old ones call it Wyre Oak;
Its age is such that no-one can
Tell me how it came by that
Or when the legend first began.
It was inevitable, I knew,
That soon we would be called to meet,
So on a strange, snow-sprinkled day
When startled Spring and Winter greet
Each other with cold courtesy,
But neither of them can yet agree
Who is to stay, or to depart,
I went to find this long-lost tree.
I knew the path I had to take,
Where few will ever walk again
Along the briar-barriered way,
Where fox and hare play hunt-the-wren
Amongst the scattered, rotting stumps
Of fallen and uprooted trees,
That form self-grown memorials -
Destined to mark their own decease.
Just as I wondered where to search,
How far abroad I’d have to look,
I saw a faintly-beaten track
Not made, I knew, by human foot,
And following its wavering course,
It led me to an open space
Where, just like a watching hare,
The tree stood in imposing grace.
Could this, I wondered, be the spot
Where all the creatures of the wild
Are drawn to when the moon is full,
Unshriven and unreconciled?
And was it also, long ago,
The place where human lovers came
Who knew the talismanic charm
Of ancient trees by ancient lanes?
For just how many lives of men,
How many autumns, winters, springs;
How many turnings of the earth
And drowsy winter slumberings
Have you stood firm upon the earth?
Ah, you were alive when they,
With a stroke of levelling axe,
Felled the tyrant majesty.
And standing in your shadow, now
I realise with growing fear
How fragile we must seem beside
This overwhelming might of years,
As the cruel chaos of our lives
Time exposes, day by day,
Who have no deeply-planted roots
To anchor us in nurturing clay.
But while the span of man is short,
Time is kinder, far, to trees,
Asking nothing in return,
For freely-given centuries.
And blackbirds, chaffinches and owls
Who see your mighty power unfurled,
Know you are more than just a tree;
Here and now, you’re a whole world.