January 17, 2011

Morris: Woodman, spare that tree!

"The Oak" was published in the New York Mirror on January 17, 1837. Its author, George Pope Morris (frequent business partner of Nathaniel Parker Willis) later renamed it "Woodman, Spare that Tree!" when it was set to music. Today, it is considered one of the earliest environmentalist poems/songs.

Woodman, spare that tree!
Touch not a single bough!
In youth it sheltered me,
And I'll protect it now.
'Twas my forefather's hand
That placed it near his cot:
There, woodman, let it stand,
Thy axe shall harm it not!

That old familiar tree,
Whose glory and renown
Are spread o'er land and sea,
And wouldst thou hew it down?
Woodman, forbear thy stroke!
Cut not its earth-bound ties;
Oh, spare that aged oak,
Now towering to the skies!

When but an idle boy
I sought its grateful shade;
In all their gushing joy
Here too my sisters played.
My mother kissed me here;
My father pressed my hand —
Forgive this foolish tear,
But let that old oak stand!

My heart-strings round thee cling,
Close as thy bark, old friend!
Here shall the wild-bird sing,
And still thy branches bend.
Old tree! the storm still brave!
And, woodman, leave the spot:
While I've a hand to save,
Thy axe shall harm it not.

1 comment:

  1. This is a welcome counterpoint to Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree, the children's book in which a tree nurtures a boy into a man. The tree does not have the advocate that Morris's tree has, and the man uses "his" tree's stump as a seat. I've never liked that message and may read this poem to my students after reading The Giving Tree, and see their reaction.


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