Monday, January 18, 2010


The Sacrilegious Axe

A.D. Godley, 'Woodman, Spare that Tree', first printed in Oxford Magazine 13 (January 23, 1895), p. 162, rpt. in his Reliquiae, ed. C.R.L. Fletcher, vol. I (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1926), pp. 41-42:
List, O list my plaintive ditty,
O St. John's, or O the City!
    For its application's to
    One or other, Sirs, of you.

Tell me what's the potent reason
Why you mutilate the trees on
    Which the sparrows daily perch
    Very near St. Giles's Church,

Why their boughs you daily shred off,
Much endangering the head of
    Any one who walks beneath
    Not expecting sudden death?

E'en a Bursar—though too often
Nought bursarial hearts can soften—
    E'en the sternest Bursar here
    Scarce had checked the rising tear,

Had that Bursar seen, as I had,
Weeping Faun and Hamadryad
    Fleeing from the rude attacks
    Of the sacrilegious axe!

Is it that a builder offers
Sums to swell your ample coffers
    If he may but build unchid
    Where the rooks aforetime did?

City Councillors! consider
Not alone the Highest Bidder!
    Make not of these sylvan spots
    Eligible Building Lots!

Bursar! If you need the dollars,
Pinch your Tutors, starve your Scholars,
    Cut down all expense you please—
    Only don't cut down the trees!
I've never set foot in Oxford, nor am I likely to in the years remaining to me, so I don't know if the bursar or city councillors heeded Godley's witty plea. How difficult it is to answer such questions even by autopsy is shown by Godley's own Letter on Matthew Arnold's Topography, in Reliquiae, vol. I, pp. 165-170, in which he tried to identify the site of "the signal-elm, that looks on Ilsley Downs," from Arnold's Thyrsis, line 14.

Related posts: Arboricide on the Wayne Ranch; The Woods of Bachycraigh; Papadendrion; Papadendrion Again; A Bewilderment of Birds; Ancient Protests Against Deforestation; Illustrations of Erysichthon; Prayer and Sacrifice to Accompany Tree Cutting; A Spirit Protects the Trees; St. Martin and the Pine Tree; The Geismar Oak; Bregalad's Lament; Petition of a Poplar; Cactus Ed and Arboricide; Views from the Center of Highgate Wood; Artaxerxes and Arboricide; When the Last Tree Falls; The Hamadryads of George Lane; Sorbs and Medlars; So Foul a Deed; Like Another Erysichthon; The Fate of Old Trees; Scandalous Misuse of the Globe; The Groves Are Down; Massacre; Executioners; Anagyrasian Spirit; Butchers of Our Poor Trees; Cruel Axes; Odi et Amo; Kentucky Chainsaw Massacre; Hornbeams; Protection of Sacred Groves; Lex Luci Spoletina; Turullius and the Grove of Asclepius; Caesarian Section; Death of a Noble Pine; Two Yew Trees in Chilthorne, Somerset; The Fate of the Shrubbery at Weston; The Trees Are Down; Hornbeams; Sad Ravages in the Woods; Strokes of Havoc; Maltreatment of Trees; Arboricide; An Impious Lumberjack; Erysichthon in Ovid; Erysichthon in Callimachus; Vandalism.

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