Vaunting Oak

He is a tower unleaning. But how he’ll break
If Heaven assault him with full wind and sleet,
And what uproar tall trees concumbent make!


More than a hundred years and a hundred feet
Naked he rears against cold skies eruptive,
Only his temporal twigs unsure of seat,


And the frail leaves of a season, who are susceptive
To the mad humors of wind, and turn and flee
In panic round the stem on which they are captive.


Now a certain heart, too young and mortally
Yoked with an unbeliever of bantering brood,
Observed, as an eminent witness of life, the tree;


She exulted, wrapped in a phantasy of good:
“Be the great oak for his long winterings
Our symbol of love, better than summer’s brood!”


Then the patient oak, delivered of his pangs,
Put forth profuse his green banners of peace
And testified to her with innumerable tongues.


And what but she fetch me up to the steep place
Where the oak vaunted? A flat where birdsong flew
Had to be traversed, and a quick populace


Of daisies and yellow kinds, and here she knew,
Instructed well by much mortality,
Better than brag in this distraught purlieu.


Above their pied and dusty clumps was he
Standing, sheer on his hill, not much soiled over
By the knobs and broken boughs of an old tree.


She looked and murmured, “Established there, forever!”
But, that her pitiful error be undone,
I knocked upon his house, a sorrowing lover,


And like a funeral came the hollow tone.
“The grand old fellow,” I grieved, “holds gallantly,
But before our joy has lapsed, even, will be gone.”


I beat more sternly, and the dolorous cry
Boomed till its loud reverberance outsounded
The singing of bees; or the coward birds that fly


Otherwhere with their songs when summer is sped,
And if they stayed would perish miserably;
Or the weeping girl remembering her dread.

by John Crowe Ransom

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