The Dryad of the Old Oak
by James Russell Lowell
In olden times there was a youth named Rhoecus.
One day as he wandered through the wood he saw
an ancient oak tree, trembling and about to fall.
Full of pity for so fair a tree, Rhoecus carefully
propped up its trunk, and as he did so he heard a
soft voice murmur:
It sounded like the gentle sighing
of the wind through the leaves - and while Rhoecus
paused bewildered to listen, again he heard the murmur
like a soft breeze.
And there stood before him, in the green glooms
of the shadowy oak, a wonderful maiden.
"Rhoecus," said she, in low-toned words, serene
and full, and as clear as drops of dew, "I am the
Dryad of this tree, and with it I am doomed to
live and die. Thou hadst compassion on my oak,
and in saving it thou hast saved my life. Now,
ask me what thou wilt that I can give, and it
shall be thine."
"Beauteous nymph," answered Rhoecus, with a
flutter at the heart, "surely nothing will satisfy
the craving of my soul save to be with thee forever.
Give to me thy love!"
"I give it, Rhoecus," answered she with sadness
in her voice, "though it be a perilous gift. An hour
before sunset meet me here."
And straightway she vanished, and Rhoecus
could see nothing but the green glooms beneath
the shadowy oak. Not a sound came to his straining
ears but the low, trickling rustle of the leaves,
and, from far away on the emerald slope, the
sweet sound of an idle shepherd's pipe.
Filled with wonder and joy Rhoecus turned his
steps homeward. The earth seemed to spring
beneath him as he walked. The clear, broad sky
looked bluer than its wont, and so full of joy was
he that he could scarce believe that he had not
Impatient for the trysting-time, he sought some
companions, and to while away the tedious hours,
he played at dice, and soon forgot all else.
The dice were rattling their merriest,
and Rhoecus had just laughed in triumph at a happy
throw, when through the open window of the room there
hummed a yellow bee. It buzzed about his ears,
and seemed ready to alight upon his head. At this
Rhoecus laughed, and with a rough, impatient
hand he brushed it off and cried:
"The silly insect! does it take me for a rose?"
But still the bee came back. Three times it
buzzed about his head, and three times he rudely
beat it back. Then straight through the window
flew the wounded bee, while Rhoecus watched its
fight with angry eyes.
And as he looked--O sorrow!--the red disk
of the setting sun descended behind the sharp
mountain peak of Thessaly.
Then instantly the blood sank from his heart, as
if its very walls had caved in, for he remembered
the trysting-hour-now gone by! Without a word
he turned and rushed forth madly through the city
and the gate, over the fields into the wood.
Spent of breath he reached the
tree, and, listening fearfully, he heard once more
the low voice murmur:
But as he looked he could see nothing but the
deepening glooms beneath the oak.
Then the voice sighed, "O Rhoecus,
nevermore shalt thou behold me by day or night! Why
didst thou fail to come ere sunset? Why didst thou
scorn my humble messenger, and send it back to
me with bruised wings? We spirits only show ourselves
to gentle eyes! And he who scorns the
smallest thing alive is forever shut away from all
that is beautiful in woods and fields. Farewell!
for thou canst see me no more!"
Then Rhoecus beat his breast and groaned aloud.
"Be pitiful," he cried. "Forgive me yet this
"Alas," the voice replied, "I am not unmerciful!
I can forgive! But I have no skill to heal thy
spirit's eyes, nor can I change the temper of thy
heart." And then again she murmured, "Nevermore!"
And after that Rhoecus heard no other sound,
save the rustling of the oak's crisp leaves, like
surf upon a distant shore.