To My Old Oak Table


Friend of my peaceful days! substantial friend,
Whom wealth can never change, nor int’rest bend,
I love thee like a child. Thou wert to me
The dumb companion of my misery,
And oftner of my joys;—then as I spoke,5
I shar’d thy sympathy, Old Heart of Oak!
For surely when my labour ceas’d at night,
With trembling, feverish hands, and aching sight,
The draught that cheer’d me and subdu’d my care,
On thy broad shoulders thou wert proud to bear.10
O’er thee, with expectation’s fire elate,
I’ve sat and ponder’d on my future fate:
On thee, with winter muffins for thy store,
I’ve lean’d, and quite forgot that I was poor.
Where dropp’d the acorn that gave birth to thee?15
Can’st thou trace back thy line of ancestry?
We’re match’d, old friend, and let us not repine,
Darkness o’erhangs thy origin and mine;
Both may be truly honourable: yet,
We’ll date our honours from the day we met;20
When, of my worldly wealth the parent stock,
Right welcome up the Thames from Woolwich Dock
Thou cam’st, when hopes ran high, and love was young;
But soon our olive-branches round thee sprung;
Soon came the days that tried a faithful wife25
The noise of children, and the cares of life.
Then, midst the threat’nings of a wintry sky,
That cough which blights the bud of infancy,
The dread of parents, Rest’s inveterate foe,
Came like a plague, and turn’d my songs to woe.30
Rest! without thee what strength can long survive,
What spirit keep the flame of Hope alive?
The midnight murmur of the cradle gave
Sounds of despair; and chilly as the grave
We felt its undulating blast arise,35
Midst whisper’d sorrows and ten thousand sighs.
Expiring embers warn’d us each to sleep,
By turns to watch alone, by turns to weep,
By turns to hear, and keep from starting wild,
The sad, faint wailings of a dying child.40
But Death, obedient to Heav’n’s high command,
Withdrew his jav’lin, and unclench’d his hand;
The little sufferers triumph’d over pain,
Their mother smil’d, and bade me hope again.
Yet Care gain’d ground, Exertion triumph’d less,45
Thick fell the gathering terrors of Distress;
Anxiety, and Griefs without a name,
Had made their dreadful inroads on my frame;
The creeping Dropsy, cold as cold could be,
Unnerv’d my arm, and bow’d my head to thee.50
Thou to thy trust, old friend, hast not been true;
These eyes the bitterest tears they ever knew
Let fall upon thee; now all wip’d away;
But what from memory shall wipe out that day?
The great, the wealthy of my native land,55
To whom a guinea is a grain of sand,
I thought upon them, for my thoughts were free,
But all unknown were then my woes and me.
Still, Resignation was my dearest friend,
And Reason pointed to a glorious end;60
With anxious sighs, a parent’s hopes and pride,
I wish’d to live—I trust I could have died!
But winter’s clouds pursu’d their stormy way,
And March brought sunshine with the length’ning day,
And bade my heart arise, that morn and night65
Now throbb’d with irresistible delight.
Delightful ’twas to leave disease behind,
And feel the renovation of the mind!
To lead abroad, upborne on Pleasure’s wing,
Our children, midst the glories of the spring;70
Our fellow-sufferers, our only wealth,
To gather daisies in the breeze of health!
’Twas then, too, when our prospects grew so fair,
And Sabbath bells announc’d the morning pray’r;
Beneath that vast gigantic dome we bow’d,75
That lifts its flaming cross above the cloud;
Had gain’d the centre of the chequer’d floor;—
That instant, with reverberating roar
Burst forth the pealing organ—mute we stood;—
The strong sensation boiling through my blood,80
Rose in a storm of joy, allied to pain,
I wept, and worshipp’d God, and wept again;
And felt, amidst the fervor of my praise,
The sweet assurances of better days.
In that gay season, honest friend of mine,85
I marked the brilliant sun upon thee shine;
Imagination took her flights so free,
Home was delicious with my book and thee,
The purchas’d nosegay, or brown ears of corn,
Were thy gay plumes upon a summer’s morn90
Awakening memory, that disdains control,
They spoke the darling language of my soul:
They whisper’d tales of joy, of peace, of truth,
And conjur’d back the sunshine of my youth:
Fancy presided at the joyful birth,95
I pour’d the torrent of my feelings forth;
Conscious of truth in Nature’s humble track,
And wrote ‘The Farmer’s Boy’ upon thy back!
Enough, old friend:—thou’rt mine; and shalt partake,
While I have pen to write, or tongue to speak,100
Whatever fortune deals me.—Part with thee!
No, not till death shall set my spirit free;
For know, should plenty crown my life’s decline,
A most important duty may be thine:
Then, guard me from Temptation’s base control,105
From apathy and littleness of soul.
The sight of thy old frame, so rough, so rude,
Shall twitch the sleeve of nodding Gratitude;
Shall teach me but to venerate the more
Honest Oak Tables and their guests—the poor:110
Teach me unjust distinctions to deride,
And falsehoods gender’d in the brain of Pride;
Shall give to Fancy still the cheerful hour,
To Intellect, its freedom and its power;
To Hospitality’s enchanting ring115
A charm, which nothing but thyself can bring.
The man who would not look with honest pride
On the tight bark that stemm’d the roaring tide,
And bore him, when he bow’d the trembling knee,
Home, through the mighty perils of the sea,120
I love him not.—He ne’er shall be my guest;
Nor sip my cup, nor witness how I’m blest;
Nor lean, to bring my honest friend to shame,
A sacrilegious elbow on thy frame;
But thou through life a monitor shalt prove,125
Sacred to Truth, to Poetry, and Love.

Dec. 1803.