THE HAUNTED OAK
by: Paul Laurence Dunbar
- RAY 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.
- 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.
MORE POEMS BY PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR
"The Haunted Oak" is reprinted
from The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar. Paul
Laurence Dunbar. New York: Dodd, Mead, and Co., 1913.