The following original poems, composed by a lady, wer [sic] read at the last public “reading” at St. Paul’s, Stayley. THE OLD OAK TREE.

My brave old tree, my noble tree,
What changes thou hast seen!
Since round thy roots the young ones sprang,
With foliage rich and green.
But, one by one, they were cut down,
And thou art standing yet;
But only in thy wither’d state,
And left alone to fret.
Yet, thou hast bravely stood the storm
Of many a wintry blast;
Though age has hallow’d out thy trunk,
Thy roots are deeply cast.
Oh! with what joy I look on thee
When the moon is shining high,
And thy old boughs are stretching forth
Up to the bright blue sky.
My brave old oak! thou hast not shared
The fate of other trees,
Which now are carrying human souls
Across the deep blue seas.
No, in thy youth thou did escape
The sturdy woodman’s stroke,
Whose axe has felled many a birch,
And many a kindred oak.
A hundred years hence! perhaps thou’ll stand
As though it was to-day;
When those who gaze upon thee now,
Will then have passed away.
But should I never see thee more,
My song shall ever be,
When thinking of the happy lines,
“Oh, woodman, spare that tree!”
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” – Matt, c. xi., v.28.

Title:The Old Oak Tree

Author:M. W.

Publication:Ashton and Stalybridge Reporter

Published in:Ashton-under-Lyne

Date:Oct 21st 1865

Keywords:allegory, metaphor, slavery


This seemingly bucolic, metaphorical poem can be seen as an implicitly abolitionist, patriotic poem when read carefully. The oak tree as a symbol of Britishness or Englishness is a familiar trope but the fact that its fellows in the narrative of the poem have been cut down to carry ‘human souls’ across the seas may refer to Britain’s official stance from 1833 against the slave trade. The term ‘human souls’ was often used in reference to the transportation of slaves from Africa to the Americas. – SR