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COWTHORPE:

WRITTEN ON AN OLD OAK IN THE VILLAGE OF COWTHORPE, YORKSHIRE. 1851

I saw your piece about the Cowthorpe Oak on genuki, and wondered if anybody knows the origins of the poem below.
My father thought it was written by his grandfather (George Winterbourne), who grew up in Aberford and was aged 16 in 1851. The following year he ran away to join the army and later fought in the Crimean War. He wrote eloquent letters home as well as many poems, but I wonder if he was really capable of penning such a poem at that age. Margaret Winterbourne


Thou heavy remnant of a forest wide
Once rooted here in solitary pride
Thou stands't of all that branching throng so vast
Sole relic thou, the grandest and the last.
Long hast thou battled with the shocks of age
Like some brave warrior on the battlefield,
Though weak with wounds yet scorns e'en then to yield;
And with his dying accents faint and low
Breathes that defiance to the conquering foe.
Here once a king in sylvan pomp thou stoods't
Thy subject court the giants of the wood,
Their dark plumed heads in solemn reverence bowed
To thee whose heights o'erhang them like a cloud.
Yet one of brightness and of Majesty that made
The scene around more glorious by its shade.
When first the sun with glories freshly born
Dispersed the floating mists that robed the morn
Thy leafy crest first caught the gilding ray
That lightened where the wide spread forest lay.
And when he sank to bathe in western seas
And through thy branches crept the evening breeze,
The last and lingering ray that faintly shone
Gladded thy lofty waving sprays alone.
Footprints of centuries on thy rugged brow
And deeply traced and each half-naked bough
Tells that age after age hath fleeted by
As clouds pursue each other through the sky.
Since first the tiny acorn gave thee birth
And spread thy feeble fibres in the earth,
What hast thou witnessed of wonder strange
Through many a century of eventful change.
The strife of peoples and of passions o'er the world;
Peasants become princes - kings from thrones down-hurled.
The dying memories of mighty deeds;
The death of empires and the birth of creeds.
Nations of birth coeval with thine own
Win the proud height of power and renown.
Peoples arise whence freedom long had flown
And break their fetters on her altar stone.
And mighty empires sink beneath their woes
And wear the inglorious yoke of mightier foes.
The stag, forth stepping from his dewy bed,
Against thee loved to chafe his antlered head;
And when retiring from the noontide heat
With all his grateful herd here found retreat.
The rustic village boy his wondering gaze
To thy vast limbs and mighty trunk would raise.
Thou saw'st his years bring manhood's glorious power
And heard in the soft, sacred evening hour,
Beneath thy shade his whispered words of love
Mix with the murmuring breeze that stirred above.
Thou saws't his failing strength and wasting limb;
The fire forsake his eyes that languished dim.
Thy leaves which shook in music o'er his head
Have rustled, gustborne, o'er his latest bed.
And all the years of vigour and decay
That summed his life, to thee was but a day.
Perhaps beneath thee while the midnight air
Shone lurid with the campfire's ruddy glare
Gathered the wild free bandits of the wood
To share the spoil, won by rapine and blood.
And waste in deep and drunken revelry
The night; or forge fresh schemes of villainy
While the wild shouts which from the lawless gang
In boisterous accents through thy arches rang.
Thus shall it be with all the pomp of earth:
To dust it must return from whence it had its birth.


Presented by kind permission of
Margaret Winterbourne
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If you can help with naming the author
please email Margaret.