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COWTHORPE:

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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.