The Chained Oak

This tale concerns the fifteenth Earl of Shrewsbury,
A member of the English aristocracy.
With mighty Halls and Castle where he’d often go,
Perched high above the river running down below.
One day, while on the hunt across his wooded land,
Sat proud upon his palfrey, hawk upon his hand.
He headed for the Castle at the close of day,
But came upon a toothless crone who barred his way.

“Now let me pass,” the Earl did cry, “And understand,
You have no reason to be here upon my land.”
The crone replied, “’tis but a shilling I do seek,
That I may feed my family this coming week.”
“Be off with you” the Earl replied, “I’ll have no truck,
With vagrancy and sympathy for rotten luck.
I’ll take my whip and flay the skin from off your back,
If you’ll not stand aside and get you off this track.”

The crone then issued forth a curse of infamy,
Upon the noble, haughty Earl of Shrewsbury.
“That if a bough of yonder Oak we’re standing by,
Should fall, then someone from your family will die.”
The Earl replied with laughter, mirth and mockery,
He had no patience with such ancient sorcery.
But as he sped away, he heard a breaking sound,
A branch from this same Oak came crashing to the ground.

He quickened up the pace whilst dwelling on the curse.
He’d witnessed many battles and had heard much worse.
But back inside the Castle, was a scene of dread.
Upon the landing, by the stairs, his son lay dead.
And so, he ordered chains to bind the mighty tree,
In order to protect his noble family,
To live their lives in peace and calm tranquility,
The curse became a far-off distant memory.

You’ll find the tree still there should you decide to go,
It’s branches and the chains all scattered down below.
The fifteenth Earl of Shrewsbury now in the past,
For dynasties and mighty Oaks can never last.



Jeff Eardley lives in the heart of England near to the Peak District National Park and is a local musician playing guitar, mandolin and piano steeped in the music of America, including the likes of Ry Cooder, Paul Simon, and particularly Hank Williams.

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14 Responses

  1. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Jeff, I love English history with a bit of mystery and to have a magic oak tree in the mix is the clotted cream on the poetic scone and jam! Thank you for this wonderful bit of light relief – a great escape from all the woes of the world.

    • Jeff Eardley

      Susan, thank you for your mouth-watering cream-tea analogy and your kind words. By the way, we are thoroughly enjoying your recent work. As the great E F Benson would have said, “Au reservoir.”

  2. Paul Freeman

    I liked the uniqueness of the story, and the twelve syllable line length enhanced the narrative.

    Thanks for the read, Jeff.

    • Jeff Eardley

      Kind words from a great poet are always appreciated. Thank you Paul.

  3. Brian Yapko

    Jeff, I love poems that tell a good story and yours is definitely one to enjoy and return to again. Pope-like couplets are the perfect vehicle for a narrative that has an antique quality. I just looked up the 15th Earl of Shrewsbury who apparently lived from 1753 to 1827. Your poem evokes that period perfectly with language choice and a romantic/gothic twist that makes me think of Coleridge or Tennyson. Terrific work!

    • Jeff Eardley

      Brian, most folk visiting the hugely expensive Alton Towers theme park are unaware of the delightful rolling hill country wherein lies the Chained Oak. A short walk away is the stunning Jacobean mansion of Wootton Lodge which was subjected to Cromwell’s cannon and musket and in more recent times, the home of the secretary of the English branch of the Adolf Hitler fan club, Oswald Moseley, and the charming Diana Mitford. Thank you for your most generous comments today.

  4. Sally Cook

    I believe in the inner life of plants and objects. This tree had a fate connected to the family, and, haviing just had a tooth pulled, I feel a definite kinship to the toothless crone. The small sum she asked would have been given for good will. Moral — never assume that things are as they appear for theyi seldom are., a good lesson for any poet.
    Good work!

    • Jeff Eardley

      Sally, thank you for your kind words as the old Oak embarks on its new life as a repository of the absurd practice of the placement of love-locks which are now festooned on the chains and will probably result in bringing the rest of the old fellow tumbling to earth. Things are never as they appear, as you say, but I hope your replacement molar will appear soon. Best wishes.

  5. Margaret Coats

    From the look of the oak and the chains, the Shrewsbury family has had a rough time of it. Could they get a tree expert to do whatever might make the oak flourish? If Brian found the correct dates of the cursed earl, the tree must be about 300 years old now, but some oak species in the best conditions can live much longer. Might give someone else another poem in the future! Enjoyed yours very much, Jeff. You have a good sense of the material and arrangement and language needed for a lively narrative poem.

    • Jeff Eardley

      Margaret, ironically, the old Oak has endured a partial collapse caused by the self-same chains rusting and eating into the fabric of this venerable old gentleman. The remains may one day succumb to the weight of a huge quantity of recent love-locks attached to the chains. The adjoining theme park of Alton Towers has an attraction called “The Hex” which features the Earl removing a branch and taking it to his mansion, to conduct experiments to nullify the curse. It’s all tosh, of course, unlike your most appreciated comment today. Thank you so much.

  6. David Watt

    Jeff, I thoroughly enjoyed your narrative poem. The form you chose definitely matches the historical subject. In short, a tale well told.

    • Jeff Eardley

      Thanks David for your much appreciated comment. By the way, if you want a good laugh, head over to SJB’s superb take on St George’s day today. Best wishes and send my regards to Sir Les.


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