An ancient tree immortalized by William Wordsworth
Take a few minutes from your busy day and enjoy this description of a wonderful tree. This is excerpted from William Wordsworth's poem, "Yew-Trees." As you read it, it's helpful to remember that yew wood was used to make bows and arrows.
THERE is a yew-tree, pride of Lorton Vale,
Which to this day stands single, in the midst
Of its own darkness, as it stood of yore:
Not loathe to furnish weapons for the Bands
Of Umfraville or Percy ere they marched
To Scotland's heaths; or those that crossed the sea
And drew their sounding bows at Azincour,
Perhaps at earlier Crecy, or Poictiers.
Of vast circumference and gloom profound
This solitary Tree! -a living thing
Produced too slowly ever to decay;
Of form and aspect too magnificent
To be destroyed...
-- from "Yew-Trees" by William Wordsworth (1770-1850).
The yew tree of Lorton Vale still stands, though part of it broke away in a storm. Previously, it was 27 feet in circumference; now it is is only 13 feet. It is over 1000 years old.
You can read some of Wordsworth's commentary about yew trees at Everypoet.com.
The Lorton Vale yew is believed to be the tree that Quaker preacher George Fox (1624-1691) mentions in his autobiography. The event he describes took place in 1653, and the soldiers he mentions were from Oliver Cromwell's army.
We came the next day to the steeple-house where James Lancaster had appointed the meeting. There were at this meeting twelve soldiers and their wives, from Carlisle; and the country people came in, as if it were to a fair. I lay at a house somewhat short of the place, so that many Friends got thither before me. When I came I found James Lancaster speaking under a yew tree which was so full of people that I feared they would break it down.
I looked about for a place to stand upon, to speak unto the people, for they lay all up and down, like people at a leaguer. After I was discovered, a professor asked if I would not go into the church? I, seeing no place abroad convenient to speak to the people from, told him, Yes; whereupon the people rushed in, so that when I came the house and pulpit were so full I had much ado to get in. Those that could not get in stood abroad about the walls.
When the people were settled I stood up on a seat, and the Lord opened my mouth to declare His everlasting Truth and His everlasting day.George Fox (1624-1691)
About a century later, John Wesley, the leader of a religious movement called Methodism, preached under the Lorton Vale yew as well.
The leaves of Taxus baccata are highly poisonous and they remain poisonous even if they are brown and lying on the ground. For that reason, livestock must not be allowed to graze around a yew-tree. The seeds are also highly poisonous. However, the pulp of the berry-like cone that contains the seed is sweet and is enjoyed by birds.
- The Vale of Lorton, Cumbria - Includes a photo of the Lorton Vale yew which survives to this day.
- Yew - An interesting page by Anna Fraser with descriptions of many traditions associated with the yew as well as a summary of facts.
Credit: Yew leaves & cone image is from Wikimedia Commons.