by Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea (1661-1720)
1 Fair tree! for thy delightful shade
2 ‘Tis just that some return be made;
3 Sure some return is due from me
4 To thy cool shadows, and to thee.
5 When thou to birds dost shelter give,
6 Thou music dost from them receive;
7 If travellers beneath thee stay
8 Till storms have worn themselves away,
9 That time in praising thee they spend
10 And thy protecting pow’r commend.
11 The shepherd here, from scorching freed,
12 Tunes to thy dancing leaves his reed;
13 Whilst his lov’d nymph, in thanks, bestows
14 Her flow’ry chaplets on thy boughs.
15 Shall I then only silent be,
16 And no return be made by me?
17 No; let this wish upon thee wait,
18 And still to flourish be thy fate.
19 To future ages may’st thou stand
20 Untouch’d by the rash workman’s hand,
21 Till that large stock of sap is spent,
22 Which gives thy summer’s ornament;
23 Till the fierce winds, that vainly strive
24 To shock thy greatness whilst alive,
25 Shall on thy lifeless hour attend,
26 Prevent the axe, and grace thy end;
27 Their scatter’d strength together call
28 And to the clouds proclaim thy fall;
29 Who then their ev’ning dews may spare
30 When thou no longer art their care,
31 But shalt, like ancient heroes, burn,
32 And some bright hearth be made thy urn.
Anne Finch, 1661–1720, was born into a family that believed in education for daughters, as well as sons, so she was well-educated for a woman of the 17th century. She served as a maid of honor to Mary of Modena in the court of Charles II, and wrote many poems.
Here is a lovely reading of the poem, accompanied by Epping Forest from John Playford’s “The English Dancing Master 1670, 11th Edition” and the painting “The Oak Tree”, by Joseph Farrington, 1747-1821.