Trees – ‘The Beech Tree’s Petition’

October 2011

Over the centuries, trees have inspired many poems, particularly in response to their felling. One tree that won a reprieve was a handsome beech – planted at Ardwell, in Scotland – after the poet Thomas Campbell penned a poem in its honour. The protestations of ladies who were visiting the Ardwell estate gave rise to the poem, and perhaps they should be equally credited with saving it. But anyway, here’s proof that the Irton tree campaigners are part of a long and noble tradition. The poem was written in 1800.

‘The Beech Tree’s Petition’ – Thomas Campbell (1777-1844)

O LEAVE this barren spot to me!
Spare, woodman, spare the beechen tree!
Though bush or floweret never grow
My dark unwarming shade below;
Nor summer bud perfume the dew
Of rosy blush, or yellow hue!
Nor fruits of autumn, blossom-born,
My green and glossy leaves adorn;
Nor murmuring tribes from me derive
Th’ ambrosial amber of the hive;
Yet leave this barren spot to me:
Spare, woodman, spare the beechen tree!

Thrice twenty summers I have seen
The sky grow bright, the forest green;
And many a wintry wind have stood
In bloomless, fruitless solitude,
Since childhood in my pleasant bower
First spent its sweet and sportive hour,
Since youthful lovers in my shade
Their vows of truth and rapture made;
And on my trunk’s surviving frame
Carved many a long-forgotten name.
Oh ! by the sighs of gentle sound,
First breathed upon this sacred ground;
By all that Love has whispered here,
Or Beauty heard with ravished ear;
As Love’s own altar honour me:
Spare, woodman, spare the beechen tree !

Beech tree leaves

Sources & further info

Text of poem taken from The Poetical Works of Thomas Campbell (1837) on www.archive.org (which includes an engraving of an 1835 illustration of ‘The Beech Tree’s Petition’ by JMW Turner

The poem was included in The pleasures of hope; with other poems (1803) and published in many journals of the time. Background information is included in Life and letters of Thomas Campbell, Vol 1 (1849)

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Page compiled 3 October 2011. Last updated: 5 October 2011.

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