On a June day
, half a lifetime ago
a toddler, uncertain limbed
but chin set hard, trunk angled
against gravity, wobbled up Dark Lane
toward the crest of Roost Hill
in his urchin eyes, that day
the loftiest of summits.
At the top, he knew,
would point to the Oak, old as England
whose ancient roots delved
even to a time before time.
the north face
bald , withered antler branches
gale lashed, trunk lightning gashed
blind to brook , covert and spinney
to meadow and wandering byway
in the valley below.
The south, animate still
a wisp of green recalling the vigour
now guarded fast in the heartwood’s memory
by rings of sap which awoke each March.
the exultant springtime surge
of the sapling time , crawling now
inching upward to the sun.
The Oak; old Needwood-bred
coppiced by pagan, sequestered by monk
a holy plot for the living
to rest the dead awhile
and take sustenance at the mid-point
between deathbed and grave.
Undressed by yeoman
consecrated in Mundy’s lament
lone refugee from the encloser’s axe
and the lust for timber
of an empire beyond the sea.
The lad thought little of this
nor cared greatly.
To him, insight would dawn only
as his own vitality, by degrees, diminished
his errant dash for fortune slowed
and dimly remembered moments
anchors , came back into focus.
Home from the world
the man returns
his own boy, punching clouds
astride his shoulders
to the Gospel Oak , abiding still
smaller, it seems
half erased from men’s knowledge
but steady, enduring.
Tears well unbidden
though he does not grieve for lost renown
but weeps at the stark, solitary beauty
and the still march through time
of history’s quiet sentinel
and marvels at his place beside it.
(Image: History and Antiquities of the Town and Neighbourhood of Uttoxeter | Francis Redfern | 1886)