The Haunted Oak

Original Text: 
The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar (New York: Dodd, Mead, and Co., 1913), Facsimile in The Collected Poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar, ed. Joanne M. Braxton (Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 1993), pp. 219-20. PS 1556 AI 1993 Robarts Library.
1Pray why are you so bare, so bare,
2  Oh, bough of the old oak-tree;
3And why, when I go through the shade you throw,
4  Runs a shudder over me?
5My leaves were green as the best, I trow,
6  And sap ran free in my veins,
7But I say in the moonlight dim and weird
8  A guiltless victim's pains.
9They'd charged him with the old, old crime,
10  And set him fast in jail:
11Oh, why does the dog howl all night long,
12  And why does the night wind wail?
13He prayed his prayer and he swore his oath,
14  And he raised his hand to the sky;
15But the beat of hoofs smote on his ear,
16  And the steady tread drew nigh.
17Who is it rides by night, by night,
18  Over the moonlit road?
19And what is the spur that keeps the pace,
20  What is the galling goad?
21And now they beat at the prison door,
22  "Ho, keeper, do not stay!
23We are friends of him whom you hold within,
24  And we fain would take him away
25"From those who ride fast on our heels
26  With mind to do him wrong;
27They have no care for his innocence,
28  And the rope they bear is long."
29They have fooled the jailer with lying words,
30  They have fooled the man with lies;
31The bolts unbar, the locks are drawn,
32  And the great door open flies.
33Now they have taken him from the jail,
34  And hard and fast they ride,
35And the leader laughs low down in his throat,
36  As they halt my trunk beside.
37Oh, the judge, he wore a mask of black,
38  And the doctor one of white,
39And the minister, with his oldest son,
40  Was curiously bedight.
41Oh, foolish man, why weep you now?
42  'Tis but a little space,
43And the time will come when these shall dread
44  The mem'ry of your face.
45I feel the rope against my bark,
46  And the weight of him in my grain,
47I feel in the throe of his final woe
48  The touch of my own last pain.
49And never more shall leaves come forth
50  On the bough that bears the ban;
51I am burned with dread, I am dried and dead,
52  From the curse of a guiltless man.
53And ever the judge rides by, rides by,
54  And goes to hunt the deer,
55And ever another rides his soul
56  In the guise of a mortal fear.
57And ever the man he rides me hard,
58  And never a night stays he;
59For I feel his curse as a haunted bough,
60  On the trunk of a haunted tree.
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.