But it may simply be a product of their size and substance: the oaks of my youth in Minnesota were majestic in height and breadth. They were proverbial pillars of strength throughout the year. And their lovely leaves and magical acorns added to their allure. All accomplished without speaking a word.
Andrew McCallum, "Oak Trees in Sherwood Forest" (1877)
Spare the parent of acorns, good wood-cutter, spare!
Let the time-honour'd Fir feel the weight of your stroke,
The many-stalk'd thorn, or Acanthus worn bare,
Pine, Arbutus, Ilex -- but touch not the Oak!
Far hence be your axe, for our grandams have sung
How the Oaks are the mothers from whom we all sprung.
Zonas (translated by J. H. Merivale), in Henry Wellesley (editor), Anthologia Polyglotta: A Selection of Versions in Various Languages, Chiefly from The Greek Anthology (1849).
Here is a prose rendering of the epigram:
"Oh labourer! Fear to cut down the mother of acorns; spare her! Let the aged pine be destroyed, or the fir, or yonder paliurus, or the ilex, or the dry arbutus. But let your axe be far from the oak-tree. For our forefathers have told us that our first mothers were oaks."
Zonas (translated by Robert Bland), in Robert Bland (editor), Collections from The Greek Anthology (1813).
Stephen McKenna, "An English Oak Tree" (1981)
In the following poem, A. H. Bullen provides us with a chronological catalogue of the oak's legendary attributes -- together with reminders of humanity's less-than-noble relationship with the noble tree.
"Dodona's oaks were through the world renown'd."
Their riddling answers oft did men confound.
"Our Dryads were to mortals ever good."
Your Druid altars smoked with human blood.
"We saved your second Charles from dread mishap."
King David's son you caught in deadly trap.
"In oaken pulpit parsons preach'd and pray'd."
From oaken gibbet poor folk swung and sway'd.
"Rare banquets on oak-board were richly spread."
Oak-coffins were the revellers' last bed.
"Who carried Drake through strange uncharted seas?"
Be all your faults forgot, heroic trees!
A. H. Bullen, Weeping-Cross and Other Rimes (1921).
Martin Snape (1853-1930)
"The Oldest Oak in the Greenwood"
On a more encouraging note, we have this from Tennyson:
Live thy Life,
Young and old,
Like yon oak,
Bright in spring,
Then; and then
All his leaves
Fallen at length,
Look, he stands,
Trunk and bough,
Alfred Tennyson, Demeter and Other Poems (1889).
"Bright in spring,/Living gold" brings to mind "Nature's first green is gold,/Her hardest hue to hold." The two poems are variations on the same theme, aren't they?
I like the fact that, unlike a great deal of Tennyson's poetry, "The Oak" is not prolix, ponderous, or sonorous. The poem's brevity and simplicity may reflect the fact that he wrote it in his eightieth year. It is worth noting that Tennyson said of the poem that it could be described as "clean cut like a Greek epigram." Hallam Tennyson, Alfred, Lord Tennyson: A Memoir, Volume II (1897), page 366. I think that lines 6 through 8 are particularly nice: a line consisting of "Then; and then" is quite striking in a poem of that period.
Gerald Dewsbury, "Sycamore and Oak" (1992)