Home  »  The Book of Georgian Verse  »  Robert Southey (1774–1843)

William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. The Book of Georgian Verse. 1909.

The Holly Tree

Robert Southey (1774–1843)

O READER! hast thou ever stood to see

The Holly Tree?

The eye that contemplates it well perceives

Its glossy leaves

Order’d by an intelligence so wise,

As might confound the Atheist’s sophistries.

Below, a circling fence, its leaves are seen

Wrinkled and keen;

No grazing cattle through their prickly round

Can reach to wound;

But as they grow where nothing is to fear,

Smooth and unarm’d the pointless leaves appear.

I love to view these things with curious eyes,

And moralize:

And in this wisdom of the Holly Tree

Can emblems see

Wherewith perchance to make a pleasant rhyme,

One which may profit in the aftertime.

Thus, though abroad perchance I might appear

Harsh and austere,

To those who on my leisure would intrude,

Reserved and rude,

Gentle at home amid my friends I’d be

Like the high leaves upon the Holly Tree.

And should my youth, as youth is apt, I know,

Some harshness show,

All vain asperities I day by day

Would wear away,

Till the smooth temper of my age should be

Like the high leaves upon the Holly Tree.

And as when all the summer trees are seen

So bright and green,

The Holly leaves a sober hue display

Less bright than they,

But when the bare and wintry woods we see,

What then so cheerful as the Holly Tree?

So serious should my youth appear among

The thoughtless throng,

So would I seem among the young and gay

More grave than they,

That in my age as cheerful I might be

As the green winter of the Holly Tree.