Louis MacNeice

The Tree of Guilt

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 that 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?