Thomas Hardy

(2 June 1840 – 11 January 1928 / Dorchester / England)

The Tree: An Old Man's Story


I

Its roots are bristling in the air
Like some mad Earth-god's spiny hair;
The loud south-wester's swell and yell
Smote it at midnight, and it fell.
   Thus ends the tree
   Where Some One sat with me.

II

Its boughs, which none but darers trod,
A child may step on from the sod,
And twigs that earliest met the dawn
Are lit the last upon the lawn.
   Cart off the tree
   Beneath whose trunk sat we!

III

Yes, there we sat: she cooed content,
And bats ringed round, and daylight went;
The gnarl, our seat, is wrenched and sunk,
Prone that queer pocket in the trunk
   Where lay the key
   To her pale mystery.

IV

"Years back, within this pocket-hole
I found, my Love, a hurried scrawl
Meant not for me," at length said I;
"I glanced thereat, and let it lie:
   The words were three -
   'Beloved, I agree.'

V

"Who placed it here; to what request
It gave assent, I never guessed.
Some prayer of some hot heart, no doubt,
To some coy maiden hereabout,
   Just as, maybe,
   With you, Sweet Heart, and me."

VI

She waited, till with quickened breath
She spoke, as one who banisheth
Reserves that lovecraft heeds so well,
To ease some mighty wish to tell:
   "'Twas I," said she,
   "Who wrote thus clinchingly.

VII

"My lover's wife--aye, wife!--knew nought
Of what we felt, and bore, and thought . . .
He'd said: 'I wed with thee or die:
She stands between, 'tis true. But why?
   Do thou agree,
   And--she shalt cease to be.'

VIII

"How I held back, how love supreme
Involved me madly in his scheme
Why should I say? . . . I wrote assent
(You found it hid) to his intent . . .
   She--DIED . . . But he
   Came not to wed with me.

IX

"O shrink not, Love!--Had these eyes seen
But once thine own, such had not been!
But we were strangers . . . Thus the plot
Cleared passion's path.--Why came he not
   To wed with me? . . .
   He wived the gibbet-tree."

X

- Under that oak of heretofore
Sat Sweetheart mine with me no more:
By many a Fiord, and Strom, and Fleuve
Have I since wandered . . . Soon, for love,
   Distraught went she -
   'Twas said for love of me.

Submitted: Saturday, January 04, 2003

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