Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Hedgerow Oak

It was after seeing the following beautiful picture, taken by my friend Dawn Alford, that we were in conversation about the tree, and its significance, and she told me that sadly, the tree was no more. It has taken a little while, but I knew it had a story to tell .......

Photo - ©Dawn Alford

Just a humble hedgerow oak
she was never destined for greatness
- born too late
to be seen
by the Royal Navy surveyor
who, in another time
would have stripped her limbs
for the knees and ribs
of the man-of-war
and sawn her body
for planking and decking
- too young  to be noticed
by the local builder
who had laid low her parents
and aunts and uncles
for the cruck and hammer beams
of the manor house
where, grey with age
and bearing the mark
of adze, axe, and shave
they still reside
preserved in time
as an historic lesson
in building technique.
No - this young lady
had another part to play.
Throughout her life
she has stood as a landmark
- an addition to the sky-line
and a silent witness
to the comings and goings
of all about her
from the lowliest insect
foraging over the lichens on her branches
to the snuffle and jingle
of the ploughman's horse
with head in nose-bag
while the weary carter
eats his bait
in the shelter of the hedge
with his back against the tree
and out of the cutting wind
midway around the headlands.
She has observed the bitter folly of war
- even taken, unmoved, a lead ball
in her thick hide
though now buried deep
within her structure
the wound long-since healed
and forgotten.
She has heard the ringing laughter
of children
as they collected
acorns to feed dad's pigs
or helped with stooking
the itchy rustling sheaves
in the stubbled shortening days
of harvest.
She has heard the parish bells call to worship
more times
than she can bear to remember.
She has stood firm against wicked winter storms
sighing at the feeble attempts
to tear her limb from limb.
She has breathed the foul air
and made it fresh
that all may breathe again.
She has in all that time
never ventured an opinion
nor hurt nor betrayed
a living soul.
But yet,
as is the way with all living things
her time has come.

While in her very prime
disease struck
and leached the very life
out of her,
and slowly
while her bark decayed
and the boring beetles fed
and her fingers fell
never to be replaced
she became a skeleton
- the bare bones
of her former glory,
her sun-bleached naked arms
reaching up as if in supplication
against a timely backdrop
of the setting sun
to fall
one Sunday morning
to the raucous rasp
of the farmer's saw.
With a final creaking groan
she stumbled and succumbed
her limbs shattering
and spiking the sod
and her back broken
the scourge
that was within her.
No more a familiar landmark
but no more a liability
to passing traffic.

Her final act of kindness
was to warm the home
of the man
who laid her to rest
across the furrow.
Little more than five paces
from the ring-marked solid table
that remains
a testament to her
one hundred and ninety four summers
one of her children
has his head above the hedge
spared by the slashing tractor
for being too close
to the road sign.
Young and slender
and of tender years
He peers out over the landscape
and breathes in
the spring air.

©Rob King


  1. Rob - I am almost speechless. This is brilliant. And so touching, you made that tree live for me. An amazing poem.

  2. This is a really poignant narrative poem, Rob. It's really visual. You have given this 'silent witness' a voice. Thanks to Lynne for sharing on fb :)

  3. A really poignant narrative poem, Rob. You have given this 'silent witness' a voice in a very visual way. Thanks to Lynne for sharing on facebook.

    1. Thank you very much Jayne - and thanks again Lynne for sharing :)

  4. Very heartfelt and touching. Beautifully written Rob. :)