The Oak and the Shrubs. A Fable by James Fortescue

There liv’d, beneath an aged oak,
A shrub or two, who thus bespoke
Their guardian Tree, “How fine you spread,
And lift into the heavens your head,
With glossy leaves, and branching arms,
Extending to the sun your charms:
Whilst we stand here in piteous plight,
Deny’d the very air, and light;
Most humbly bend, — scarce see the sun,—
What, for such usage, have we done?
What a mean figure we have made,
Out of Court-sunshine, in your shade;
Tho’ swoln to an enormous size,
Remember whom we aggrandize;
Yet nothing have, but leaves, or loppings,
Besides some filthy rain, or droppings;
Which only tend to make us sower,
Else fair, and sweet as any flower,
We might, as well as others, rise,
And shoot our heads into the skies.
But now, you only stand aloof,
Catch, and turn all to your behoof:
While we, below, you scorn and scoff,
Seem only made, to set you off.
Tho’ the same wood, the self-same earth,
Gave us all, nutriment and birth,
We dare not raise aloft our head,
Tho’ full as nobly born and bred.

The heart of oak with high disdain,
Reply’d — “I’ve heard you fools complain;
But know this clamour’s out of season,
Against my eminence ’tis treason:
Such scrubs have been too long protected;
By every one, but me, rejected.
Had you not murmur’d you might lie,
All safe, thro’ your obscurity;
But now, since you’re so saucy grown,
Of driving winds and rain the scorn,
I’ll leave you. — Then his arms withdrew,
And left them all exposed to view.

The bleak winds came, the driving rains,
Descending, swept part off the plains;
A part was trod into the mire;
The rest, made fuel, food for fire:
The farmer came, in bundles bound
The residue, and clear’d the ground.


Date: 1759

By: James Fortescue (1716-1777)


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