The Haunted Oak

By Paul Laurence Dunbar

Pray why are you so bare, so bare
Oh, bough of the old oak-tree;
And why, when I go through the shade you throw
Runs a shudder over me?

My leaves were green as the best, I trow
And sap ran free in my veins
But I saw in the moonlight dim and weird
A guiltless victim’s pains.

I bent me down to hear his sigh;
I shook with his gurgling moan
And I trembled sore when they rode away
And left him here alone.

They’d charged him with the old, old crime
And set him fast in jail:
Oh, why does the dog howl all night long
And why does the night wind wail?

He prayed his prayer and he swore his oath
And he raised his hand to the sky;
But the beat of hoofs smote on his ear
And the steady tread drew nigh.

Who is it rides by night, by night
Over the moonlit road?
And what is the spur that keeps the pace
What is the galling goad?

And now they beat at the prison door
“Ho, keeper, do not stay!
We are friends of him whom you hold within
And we fain would take him away

From those who ride fast on our heels
With mind to do him wrong;
They have no care for his innocence
And the rope they bear is long.”

They have fooled the jailer with lying words
They have fooled the man with lies; The bolts unbar, the locks are drawn
And the great door open flies.

Now they have taken him from the jail
And hard and fast they ride
And the leader laughs low down in his throat
As they halt my trunk beside.

Oh, the judge, he wore a mask of black
And the doctor one of white
And the minister, with his oldest son
Was curiously bedight.

Oh, foolish man, why weep you now?
‘Tis but a little space
And the time will come when these shall dread
The mem’ry of your face.

I feel the rope against my bark
And the weight of him in my grain
I feel in the throe of his final woe
The touch of my own last pain.

And never more shall leaves come forth
On the bough that bears the ban;
I am burned with dread, I am dried and dead
From the curse of a guiltless man.

And ever the judge rides by, rides by
And goes to hunt the deer
And ever another rides his soul
In the guise of a mortal fear.

And ever the man he rides me hard
And never a night stays he;
For I feel his curse as a haunted bough
On the trunk of a haunted tree.

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