Gospel Oak




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, 
the grown-ups
would point to the Oak, 
old as England
whose ancient roots delved
even to a time before time.

Crooked, crouched, 
the north face
, 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.

Gone now
 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
, 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)


15 thoughts on “Gospel Oak

    1. Go to Google maps and look for the junction of Thorney Lanes and Dark Lane, Newborough, Staffs.

      There you will find Noah’s Ark Farm. The oak is in the front garden. You can’t miss it.


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