A Dialogue between an Oak and a Man Cutting Him Down


Why cut you off my boughs, which largely bend,2
And from the scorching sun do you defend,3
Which4 did refresh your fainting limbs from sweat,5
And kept you free from thund’ring rains and6 wet,
When on my bark your weary head you’d7 lay,                        5
Where quiet sleep did take all cares away,
The whilst my leaves a gentle noise did make,
And blew cool winds that you fresh air might take?8
Besides, I did invite the birds to sing,
That their sweet voice might you some pleasure bring,         10
Where everyone did strive to do their best,
Oft changed their notes, and strained their tender breast.
In winter-time,9 my shoulders broad did hold
Off blust’ring storms, that wounded with sharp cold.
And on my head the flakes of snow did fall,                             15
Whilst you under my boughs sat10 free from all.
And will you thus requite my love,11 good will,
To take away my life, and body kill?12
For all my care and service I have passed,
Must I be cut and laid on fire at last?                                          20
See how13 true love you cruelly have slain,
Invent all ways14 to torture me with pain.
First you do peel my bark, and flay my skin,
Hew down my boughs, so chops off every limb.15
With wedges you do pierce my sides to wound,                       25
And with your hatchet knock me to the ground.
I minced shall be in chips and pieces small,
And thus16 doth man reward good deeds withal.

Why grumble you18, old Oak, when you have19 stood
This hundred years as king of all the wood?20                          30
Would you forever live, and not resign
Your place to one that is of your own line?
Your acorns young, when they grow big and tall,
Long for your crown, and wish to see your fall,
Think every minute lost whilst you do live,                              35
And grumble at each office you do give.
Ambition doth fly21 high, and is above
All sorts of friendship and of nat’ral22 love.
Besides, all subjects do23 in change delight;
When kings grow old, their government they slight.              40
Although in ease, and peace, and wealth they24 live,
Yet all those happy times for change they’ll25 give,
Grow26 discontent, and factions still do make,
What good so e’er he doth, as evil take.
Were he as wise as ever Nature made,                                       45
As pious, good, as ever Heav’n has saved,27
Yet when they die28 such joy is in their face,
As if the Devil had gone from that place.
With shouts of joy they run a new to crown,
Although next day they strive to pull him down.                     50

Why, said the Oak, because that they are mad,
Shall I rejoice,29 for my own death be glad?
Because my subjects all ungrateful30 are,
Shall I therefore my health and life impair?
Good kings govern justly at all times,31                                      55
Examine not men’s humours, but their crimes,32
For when their crimes appear, ’tis time to strike,
Not to examine thoughts how33 they do like.
Though34 kings are never loved till they do die,
Nor wished to live till in the grave they lie,                               60
Yet he that loves himself35 the less because
He cannot get every man’s high applause
Shall by my judgment be condemned to wear
The asses ears, and burdens for to bear.
But let me live the life that Nature gave,                                    65
And not to please my subjects dig my grave.

But here, poor Oak, you live36 in ignorance,
And never seek your37 knowledge to advance.
I’ll cut you down, that knowledge you may38 gain,
And39 be a ship to traffic on the main.                                        70
There shall you40 swim, and cut the seas in two,
And trample down each wave as you do41 go.
Though they rise high,42 and big are swelled with pride,
You43 on their shoulders broad, and back, shall44 ride,
And bow their lofty heads, their pride to check,45                   75
Shall set your steady foot upon their neck.46
They on their breast your47 stately ship shall48 bear
Till your49 sharp keel the wat’ry womb doth tear.
Thus shall you50 round the world, new land to find,
That from the rest is of another kind.                                         80

O!51 said the Oak, I am contented well
Without that knowledge in my wood to dwell.
For I had rather live and simple be
Than run in danger,52 some strange53 sight to see.
Perchance my ship against a rock may hit;                               85
Then were54 I straight in sundry pieces split.
Besides, no rest, nor quiet shall I55 have:
The winds will56 toss me on each troubled wave;
The billows rough will beat on every side;
My breast will ache to swim against the tide.                           90
And greedy merchants may me overfreight;
Then57 should I drownèd be with my own weight.
With58 sails and ropes men will my59 body tie,
And I,60 a prisoner, have no liberty.
And being always wet, shall take such colds,61                         95
My ship may get a pose, and leak through holes,62
Which they to mend, will put me to great pain;
Besides, all patched and pieced I shall remain.
I care not for that wealth, wherein the pains
And troubles are63 far greater than the gains.                           100
I am contented with what Nature gave;
I’d64 not repine, but one poor wish would have,65
Which is, that you my agèd life would save.

To build a stately house I’ll cut you66 down,
Wherein shall princes live of great renown.                             105
There shall you67 live with the best company;
All their delight and pastime you shall68 see.
Where plays, and masques, and beauties bright will shine,
Your69 wood all oiled with smoke of meat and wine.
There shall you70 hear both men and women sing,                 110
Far pleasanter than nightingales in71 spring.
Like to a ball, their echoes shall rebound
Against the wall, yet can no72 voice be found.

Alas,73 what music shall I care to hear,
When on my shoulders I such burthens bear?                         115
Both brick and tiles upon my head are laid—
Of this preferment I am sore afraid—
And many times with nails and hammers strong74
They75 pierce my sides, to hang their pictures on.76
My face is smutched with smoke of candle lights,                   120
In danger to be burnt in winter nights.
No, let me here, a poor old oak, still grow;
I care not for these vain delights77 to know.
For fruitless promises I do not care;
More honor ’tis my own green leaves to bear.                         125
More honor ’tis to be in Nature’s dress
Than any shape that men by art express.
I am not like to man, would praises have,
And for opinion make myself a slave.

Why do you wish to live and not to die,                                    130
Since you no pleasure have, but misery?
Here you the sun with scorching heat doth burn,78
And all your leaves so green to dryness turn.79
Also80 with winter’s cold you quake and shake;
Thus in no time or season rest can take.                                   135

I’m happier far, said th’Oak, than you mankind,81
For I content in my condition find;82
Man83 nothing loves but what he cannot get,
And soon doth surfeit of one dish of meat,
Dislikes all company, displeased alone,                                     140
Makes grief himself if fortune gives him none.
And as his mind is restless, never pleased,
So is his body sick and oft diseased.
His gouts and pains do make him sigh and cry,
Yet in the midst of pains84 would live, not die.                         145

Alas, poor Oak,85 you do not know,86 nor can
Imagine half the misery of man.
All other creatures only in sense join,
But man hath87 something more, which is divine.
He hath a mind, doth88 to Heav’n89 aspire;                               150
For curiosities he doth90 inquire;
A wit that nimble is, which91 runs about,
In every corner to seek Nature out.
For she doth hide herself, afraid92 to show
Man all her works, lest he too powerful grow,                         155
Like as93 a king, his favorite waxing94 great,
May well suspect that he his pow’r will95 get.
And what creates desire in96 man’s breast,
That97 nature is divine, which seeks the best,
And never can be satisfied, until98                                              160
He, like a god, doth in perfection dwell.99
If you, as man, desire like gods to be,
I’ll spare your life, and not cut down your tree.

  1. Him Down] it down. 1664, 1668
  2. which largely bend,] both large, and long, 1653
  3. And from the scorching sun do you defend,] That keepe you from the heat, and scorching Sun; 1653; And from the scorching Sun you do defend? 1664; And from the scorching Sun do you defend? 1668
  4. Which] And 1653
  5. sweat,] sweat? 1653
  6. And kept you free from thund’ring rains and] From thundering Raines I keepe you free, from 1653
  7. you’d] would 1653
  8. take?] take. 1653, 1668
  9. winter-time,] Winter time, 1653; Winter time 1664
  10. sat] sate 1653, 1668
  11. will you thus requite my love,] shall thus be requited my 1664, 1668
  12. To take away my life, and body kill?] That you will take my Life, and Body kill? 1664; That you will take my Life, and Body kill? 1668
  13. See how] And thus 1653
  14. Invent all ways] Invent alwaies 1653; And try’d all ways 1664, 1668
  15. Hew down my boughs, so chops off every limb.] Chop off my Limbs, and leave me nak’d and thin, 1664; Chop off my Limbs, and leave me naked, thin: 1668
  16. thus] this 1664, 1668
  17. Man] Oak. 1668
  18. grumble you,] grumblest thou, 1653
  19. you have] thou hast 1653
  20. wood?] Wood. 1653
  21. doth fly] flieth 1653
  22. and of nat’ral] strong, or Naturall 1653
  23. do] they 1653
  24. they] do 1653
  25. they’ll] will 1653
  26. Grow] Growes 1653
  27. Heav’n has saved,] Heaven sav’d: 1653; Heav’n has sav’d: 1668
  28. they die] he Dyes, 1664; He dyes, 1668
  29. rejoice,] rejoyce? 1668
  30. ungrateful] ingratefull 1653; Ingratefull 1664
  31. at all times,] as they ought, 1653
  32. Examine not men’s humours, but their crimes,] Examines not their Humours, but their Fault. 1653
  33. how] what 1664, 1668
  34. Though] If 1653
  35. himself] hinself 1664
  36. you live] thou liv’st 1653
  37. seek your] seek’st thy 1653
  38. you down, that knowledge you may] the downe, ’cause Knowledge thou maist 1653
  39. And] Shalt 1653, 1664
  40. shall you] shalt thou 1653
  41. you do] thou dost 1653
  42. rise high,] do rise, 1664, 1668
  43. You] Thou 1653
  44. shall] shalt 1653
  45. And bow their lofty heads, their pride to check,] Their lofty Heads shalt bowe, and make them stoop, 1653
  46. Shall set your steady foot upon their neck.] And on their Necks shalt set thy steddy Foot: 1653
  47. They on their breast your] And on their Breast thy 1653
  48. shall] shalt 1653
  49. your] thy 1653
  50. shall you] shalt thou 1653
  51. O!] O, 1653
  52. Than run in danger,] Then dangers run, 1653
  53. strange] new strange 1653
  54. were] am 1664, 1668
  55. shall I] I should 1653
  56. will] would 1653
  57. Then] So 1653
  58. With] Besides with 1653
  59. men will my] my 1653
  60. And I,] Just like 1653
  61. shall take such colds,] such Colds shall take, 1664, 1668
  62. and leak through holes,] through Holes, and Leak, 1664; through Holes, and Leak, 1668
  63. troubles are] trouble, is 1653
  64. I’d] I 1653; I’l 1664; I’le 1668
  65. would have,] I’ld have, 1664; I’ld have; 1668
  66. you] thee 1653
  67. shall you] shalt thou 1653
  68. you shall] thou shalt 1653
  69. Your] Thy 1653
  70. shall you] thou shalt 1653
  71. in] i’th’ 1664, 1668
  72. yet can no] and yet no 1653, 1668
  73. Alas,] Alas! 1668
  74. And many times with nails and hammers strong] With Nails and Hammers they will often wound, 1664; With Nails and Hammers, they will often wound, 1668
  75. They] And 1664, 1668
  76. on.] round; 1664; round. 1668
  77. I care not for these vain delights] Such vain Delights I matter not 1664; Such Vain Delights, I matter not 1668
  78. Here you the sun with scorching heat doth burn,] For here you stand against the scorching Sun: 1653
  79. And all your leaves so green to dryness turn.] By’s Fiery Beames, your fresh green Leaves become 1653
  80. Also] Wither’d; 1653
  81. I’m happier far, said th’Oak, than you mankind,] Yet I am happier, said the Oake, then Man; 1653
  82. For I content in my condition find;] With my condition I contented am. 1653
  83. Man] He 1653
  84. pains] them 1664, them, 1668
  85. Oak,] Oak! 1668
  86. you do not know,] thou understandst, 1653
  87. hath] has 1664, 1668
  88. doth] and doth 1664, 1668
  89. Heav’n] the Heavens 1653
  90. For curiosities he doth] A Curiosity for to 1653
  91. which] and 1664, 1668
  92. afraid] as fear’d 1653
  93. as] to 1653
  94. waxing] makes so 1653
  95. May well suspect that he his pow’r will] That at the last, he feares his Power hee’ll 1653
  96. in] in a 1664, 1668
  97. That] A 1653
  98. And never can be satisfied, until] For no Perfection he at all doth prize, 1664, 1668
  99. He, like a god, doth in perfection dwell.] Till he therein the Gods doth Equalize: 1664; Till he, therein, the gods doth equalize. 1668