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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
England: Vols. I–IV. 1876–79.


The Vassal’s Lament for the Fallen Tree

By Felicia Hemans (1793–1835)

  • “Here [at Brereton in Cheshire] is one thing incredibly strange, but attested, as I myself have heard, by many persons and commonly believed. Before any heir of this family dies, there are seen, in a lake adjoining, the bodies of trees swimming on the water for several days.”—Camden’s Britannia.

  • YES! I have seen the ancient oak

    On the dark deep water cast,

    And it was not felled by the woodman’s stroke,

    Or the rush of the sweeping blast;

    For the axe might never touch that tree,

    And the air was still as a summer sea.

    I saw it fall, as falls a chief

    By an arrow in the fight,

    And the old woods shook, to their loftiest leaf,

    At the crashing of its might;

    And the startled deer to their coverts drew,

    And the spray of the lake as a fountain’s flew!

    ’T is fallen! But think thou not I weep

    For the forest’s pride o’erthrown,—

    An old man’s tears lie far too deep

    To be poured for this alone:

    But by that sign too well I know

    That a youthful head must soon be low!

    A youthful head, with its shining hair,

    And its bright quick-flashing eye;

    Well may I weep! for the boy is fair,

    Too fair a thing to die!

    But on his brow the mark is set,—

    O, could my life redeem him yet!

    He bounded by me as I gazed

    Alone on the fatal sign,

    And it seemed like sunshine when he raised

    His joyous glance to mine.

    With a stag’s fleet step he bounded by,

    So full of life,—but he must die!

    He must, he must! in that deep dell,

    By that dark water’s side,

    ’T is known that ne’er a proud tree fell

    But an heir of his fathers died.

    And he,—there ’s laughter in his eye,

    Joy in his voice,—yet he must die!

    I ’ve borne him in these arms, that now

    Are nerveless and unstrung;

    And must I see, on that fair brow,

    The dust untimely flung?

    I must!—yon green oak, branch and crest,

    Lies floating on the dark lake’s breast!

    The noble boy!—how proudly sprung

    The falcon from his hand!

    It seemed like youth to see him young,

    A flower in his father’s land!

    But the hour of the knell and the dirge is nigh,

    For the tree hath fallen, and the flower must die.

    Say not ’t is vain! I tell thee, some

    Are warned by a meteor’s light,

    Or a pale bird, flitting, calls them home,

    Or a voice on the winds by night;

    And they must go! And he too, he!

    Woe for the fall of the glorious tree!