There is a tree spirit, on a hill, in a shire where there are few trees and even fewer hills. Long long ago the tree attracted a poet. The man was not a great poet, at least he never ascended to greatness, though he is still remembered for crafting a poem in the bark of the giant beech tree. His name was Joseph Tubb.
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Dear Poem Tree
You are merely a tree spirit now, your torture commemorated by a dead plaque, but when we first met I watched 100 pipistrelles leave your heart at dusk, and listened to a tawny hooting from your crown to its mate across the boughs of the ancient clump.
I remember our first summer together, me driving past you in concentric circles, edging closer with every pass, clouds of pollen erupting from the meadow grass as my tedder fluffed the sun-kissed hay. The young lovers I’d disturbed between the rows of reclining ox-eyes and tangled sheep’s fescue must surely have heard the approach of my racing horsepower, yet seemed surprised that they were destined for winter feed unless they ran from my path. By the time the hilltop was turned over, I struggled to see through red and swollen eyelids before shuddering to a stop by your side. In your graceful shade, I used half my canteen to clear the dust from my eyes before slaking my thirst.
These are my first memories from thirty years ago, ten years before your final demise. You’d already worn your literary scars for 148 years; 755 deeply-carved letters flailing your skin, exposing your heartwood to minibeast and microlife.
Our lives glided by like ships in the night or as fellow dawn spirits when we would watch the sun rise behind the ancient barrow that lay between us and the Ridgeway. We had our moments before the visiting hoards came to throng your sides, treading in rings around your buttresses while they read the words you bore with quiet dignity. In the half-light you witnessed the whole life of my faithful Labrador ebb and flow. You whispered to me as I wandered silently past, my first baby tucked inside a thick winter fleece, sparing my wife from another sleepless night.
In your final moments our lives entwined. I discovered words and dreamt of writing, even while your bark turned to dust and those lab’ring words faded into history. I know you are gone, but I can sense you still, your spirit absorbed by the young trees crowding in. I suppose I might thank Tubb for marking you out, but without you, Tubb will have been long forgotten. The tree maketh the man, not once, but twice.
Thank you, dear friend.
REPLY TO THE POEM TREE
- Locate the Tree [in this instance its ghost]
- Discover the Letter Capsule and unique password
- Visit the specific Letter Replies page
- Unlock it with the unique password (NB it only works with this specific replies page)
- Read any replies from other letter writers
- Contribute your own letter (NB you will need to sign up as Contributor which is fast and straightforward – see Register)
Joseph Tubb’s poem, 1844-5
As up the hill with labr’ing steps we tread
Where the twin Clumps their sheltering branches spread
The summit gain’d at ease reclining lay
And all around the wide spread scene survey
Point out each object and instructive tell
The various changes that the land befell
Where the low bank the country wide surrounds
That ancient earthwork form’d old Mercia’s bounds
In misty distance see the barrow heave
There lies forgotten lonely Cwichelm’s grave.
Around this hill the ruthless Danes intrenched
And these fair plains with gory slaughter drench’d
While at our feet where stands that stately tower
In days gone by up rose the Roman power
And yonder, there where Thames smooth waters glide
In later days appeared monastic pride.
Within that field where lies the grazing herd
Huge walls were found, some coffins disinter’d
Such is the course of time, the wreck which fate
And awful doom award the earthly great.
Read more about the Poem Tree on Wikipedia
The Poem Tree is located on land managed by the Earth Trust