The Tree of Guilt


Louis MacNeice

When first we knew it, gibbet-bare

It scrawled an omen on the air,

But later, in its wealth of leaf,

Looked too lush to hang a thief.

And from its branches muffled doves

Drummed out their purchasable loves

Which far below them were purveyed

On credit through the slinking shade.

And what a cooing trade was done

Around the tree-trunk anyone

Could guess who saw the countless hearts

Carved in its bark transfixed with darts;

So entering this enchanted zone

Anyone would add his own

Cut neatly with a pocket knife,

There for his life and the tree's life.

And having thus signed on the line

Anyone claimed his anodyne

And, drinking it, was lulled asleep

By doves and insects, deep and deep,

Till he finds later, waking cold,

The leaves fallen, himself old,

And his carved heart, though vastly grown

Not recognizably his own.

The dove's is now the raven's day

And there is interest yet to pay;

And in those branches, gibbet-bare,

Is that a noose that dangles there?

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