Woodman, Spare that Tree!

Original Text: 
Poems (New York: Charles Scribner , 1860): 64-65
2   Touch not a single bough!
3In youth it sheltered me,
4   And I'll protect it now.
5'T was my forefather's hand
6   That placed it near his cot;
7There, woodman, let it stand,
8   Thy axe shall harm it not.
9That old familiar tree,
10   Whose glory and renown
11Are spread o'er land and sea --
12   And wouldst thou hew it down?
13Woodman, forbear thy stroke!
14   Cut not its earth-bound ties;
15Oh, spare that aged oak,
16   Now towering to the skies!
17When but an idle boy,
18   I sought its grateful shade;
19In all their gushing joy
20   Here, too, my sisters played.
21My mother kissed me here;
22   My father pressed my hand --
23Forgive this foolish tear,
24   But let that old oak stand.
25My heart-strings round thee cling,
26   Close as thy bark, old friend!
27Here shall the wild-bird sing,
28   And still thy branches bend.
29Old tree! the storm still brave!
30   And, woodman, leave the spot;
31While I've a hand to save,
32   Thy axe shall harm it not.


1] Originally entitled "The Oak."
"Riding out of town a few days since, in company with a friend, who was once the expectant heir of the largest estate in America, but over whose worldly prospects a blight has recently come, he invited me to turn down a little romantic woodland pass not far from Bloomingdale. 'Your object?' inquired I. 'Merely to look once more at an old tree planted by my grandfather, near a cottage that was once my father's.' -- 'The place is yours, then?' said I. 'No, my poor mother sold it;' and I observed a slight quiver of the lip, at the recollection of that circumstance. 'Dear mother!' resumed my companion, 'we passed many happy, HAPPY days, in that old cottage; but it is nothing to me now--father, mother, sisters, cottage -- all are gone!' -- and a paleness over-spread his fine countenance, and a moisture came to his eyes, as he spoke. After a moment's pause, he added: 'Don't think me foolish. I don't know how it is, I never ride out but I turn down this lane to look at that old tree. I have a thousand recollections about it, and I always greet it as a familiar and well-remembered friend. In the by-gone summer-time it was a friend indeed. Under its branches I often listened to the good counsel of my parents, and had SUCH gambols with my sisters! Its leaves are all off now, so you won't see it to advantage, for it is a glorious old fellow in summer; but I like it full as well in winter-time.' These words were scarcely uttered, when my companion cried out, 'There it is?' Near the tree stood an old man, with his coat off, sharpening an ax. He was the occupant of the cottage. 'What do you intend doing?' asked my friend with great anxiety. 'What is that to you?' was the blunt reply. 'You are not going to cut that tree down, surely?' -- 'Yes, but I am though,' said the woodman. 'What for?' inquired my companion, almost choked with emotion. 'What for? Why, because I think proper to do so. What for? I like that! Well, I'll tell you what for. This tree makes my dwelling unhealthy; it stands too near the house: prevents the moisture from exhaling, and renders us liable to fever-and-ague.'--'Who told you that?' -- 'Dr. S---. '-- 'Have you any other reason for wishing to cut it down?' -- 'Yes, I am getting old; the woods are a great way off, and this tree is of some value to me to burn.' He was soon convinced, however, that the story about the fever-and-ague was a mere fiction, for there never had been a case of that disease in the neighborhood; and then was asked what the tree was worth for firewood. 'Why, when it is down, about ten dollars.' 'Suppose I make you a present of that amount, will you let it stand?' -- 'Yes.' -- 'You are sure of that?' -- 'Positive.' -- 'Then give me a bond to that effect.' I drew it up; it was witnessed by his daughter; the money was paid, and we left the place with an assurance from the young girl, who looked as smiling and beautiful as Hebe, that the tree should stand as long as she lived. We returned to the road, and pursued our ride. These circumstances made a strong impression upon my mind, and furnished me with materials for the song I herewith send you. -- Extract from a Letter to Henry Russell, the Vocalist, dated New York, February 1, 1837" (poet's note). Back to Line
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
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