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Plant Focus

Quercus macdougallii
A rare oak endemic to the Sierra Juárez in Oaxaca

"The Oak of Guernica" by William Wordsworth

The English romantic poet, William Wordsworth, was a staunch supporter of the Spanish people during the Peninsular War (1808–1814), a military conflict for the control of the Iberian Peninsula during the Napoleonic Wars. Though as a young man Wordsworth had been inspired by the French Revolution and professed a passionate fervor for Napoleon, he later changed his mind, disappointed by what France and Napoleon turned out to be. He wrote a number of sonnets devoted to the Peninsular War, gathered under the title Poems Dedicated to National Independence and Liberty (1808–1811). In these poems, Wordsworth dwells on the suffering and bravery of the Spanish people, who for him embodied liberty and freedom. One of them is dedicated to an oak growing in Guernica, a town in the Basque Country (Biscay) in northeastern Spain. The oak of Guernica symbolizes traditional freedoms of the town, and by extension of the Basque people as a whole. The original oak was planted in the 14th century, and has been replaced several times by it descendants. The town is famous as the site of one of the first aerial bombings: it was bombed by Nazi Germany's Luftwaffe on April 26, 1937, an attack that inspired Pablo Picasso's painting Guernica, in which he depicted his outrage at the atrocity.

 

Wordsworth wrote a brief introduction to the sonnet:

 

The ancient oak of Guernica, says Laborde in his account of Biscay, is a most venerable national monument. Ferdinand and Isabella, in the years 1476, after hearing mass in the Church of Santa María de la Antigua, repaired to this tree, under which they swore to the Biscayans to maintain their fueros (privileges). What other interest belongs to it in the minds of this People will appear from the following

SUPPOSED ADDRESS OF THE SAME.—1810

Oak of Guernica! Tree of holier power
Than that which in Dodona did enshrine
(So faith too fondly deemed) a voice divine
Heard from the depths of its aerial bower—
How canst thou flourish at this blighting hour?
What hope, what joy can sunshine bring to thee,
Or the soft breezes from the Atlantic sea,
The dews of morn, or April's tender shower?
     Stroke merciful and welcome would that be
Which should extend thy branches on the ground,
If never more within their shady round
Those lofty-minded Lawgivers shall meet,
Peasant and lord, in their appointed seat,
Guardians of Biscay's ancient liberty.

 

If you would like to propose a poem for inclusion in this series, please click here.


William Wordsworth (7 April 1770& – 23 April 1850) was an English Romantic poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature with their joint publication Lyrical Ballads (1798). He was Poet Laureate from 1843 until his death from pleurisy ;in 1850.