Why cut you off my boughs, which largely bend,
And from the scorching sun do you defend,
Which did refresh your fainting limbs from sweat,
And kept you free from thund’ring rains and wet,
When on my bark your weary head you’d 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?
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, 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 sat free from all.
And will you thus requite my love, good will,
To take away my life, and body kill?
For all my care and service I have passed,
Must I be cut and laid on fire at last? 20
See how true love you cruelly have slain,
Invent all ways to torture me with pain.
First you do peel my bark, and flay my skin,
Hew down my boughs, so chops off every limb.
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 thus doth man reward good deeds withal.
Why grumble you, old Oak, when you have stood
This hundred years as king of all the wood? 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 fly high, and is above
All sorts of friendship and of nat’ral love.
Besides, all subjects do in change delight;
When kings grow old, their government they slight. 40
Although in ease, and peace, and wealth they live,
Yet all those happy times for change they’ll give,
Grow 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,
Yet when they die 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, for my own death be glad?
Because my subjects all ungrateful are,
Shall I therefore my health and life impair?
Good kings govern justly at all times, 55
Examine not men’s humours, but their crimes,
For when their crimes appear, ’tis time to strike,
Not to examine thoughts how they do like.
Though kings are never loved till they do die,
Nor wished to live till in the grave they lie, 60
Yet he that loves himself 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 live in ignorance,
And never seek your knowledge to advance.
I’ll cut you down, that knowledge you may gain,
And be a ship to traffic on the main. 70
There shall you swim, and cut the seas in two,
And trample down each wave as you do go.
Though they rise high, and big are swelled with pride,
You on their shoulders broad, and back, shall ride,
And bow their lofty heads, their pride to check, 75
Shall set your steady foot upon their neck.
They on their breast your stately ship shall bear
Till your sharp keel the wat’ry womb doth tear.
Thus shall you round the world, new land to find,
That from the rest is of another kind. 80
O! 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, some strange sight to see.
Perchance my ship against a rock may hit; 85
Then were I straight in sundry pieces split.
Besides, no rest, nor quiet shall I have:
The winds will 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;
Then should I drownèd be with my own weight.
With sails and ropes men will my body tie,
And I, a prisoner, have no liberty.
And being always wet, shall take such colds, 95
My ship may get a pose, and leak through holes,
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 are far greater than the gains. 100
I am contented with what Nature gave;
I’d not repine, but one poor wish would have,
Which is, that you my agèd life would save.
To build a stately house I’ll cut you down,
Wherein shall princes live of great renown. 105
There shall you live with the best company;
All their delight and pastime you shall see.
Where plays, and masques, and beauties bright will shine,
Your wood all oiled with smoke of meat and wine.
There shall you hear both men and women sing, 110
Far pleasanter than nightingales in spring.
Like to a ball, their echoes shall rebound
Against the wall, yet can no voice be found.
Alas, 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 strong
They pierce my sides, to hang their pictures on.
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 delights 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,
And all your leaves so green to dryness turn.
Also 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,
For I content in my condition find;
Man 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 pains would live, not die. 145
Alas, poor Oak, you do not know, nor can
Imagine half the misery of man.
All other creatures only in sense join,
But man hath something more, which is divine.
He hath a mind, doth to Heav’n aspire; 150
For curiosities he doth inquire;
A wit that nimble is, which runs about,
In every corner to seek Nature out.
For she doth hide herself, afraid to show
Man all her works, lest he too powerful grow, 155
Like as a king, his favorite waxing great,
May well suspect that he his pow’r will get.
And what creates desire in man’s breast,
That nature is divine, which seeks the best,
And never can be satisfied, until 160
He, like a god, doth in perfection dwell.
If you, as man, desire like gods to be,
I’ll spare your life, and not cut down your tree.