The Ankerwycke Yew
Written by Donald Hughes, 2015
I walked an imaginary walk today, in old Runnymede,
And could feel the soft damp grass beneath my feet;
Along the snowdrops and the river’s reed,
I stopped to rest, and took a seat.
I leaned against the ancient Ankerwyck yew,
And listened to the green woodpecker’s tap;
With the reverence of sitting on a solemn pew,
I folded my hands upon my lap.
Suddenly, a voice whispered upon the wind,
Carried atop the wings of an emerald dragonfly;
Could it be King Henry proposing to the flirtatious Ann Boleyn,
Or her soft acceptance, expressed by a prophetic sigh?
Like flashes of lights dancing on the walls of St. Mary’s priory,
The nearby River Thames sparkled like diamonds and pearls;
Upon further reflection, my mind’s eye could see,
The gathering storm of armies of bishops, barons and earls.
There! In the distance upon royal pavilions they waved,
Three golden lions, embroidered in bold defiant display;
When his elder brother, “the Lionhearted” could not be saved,
John, “the tyrannous whelp” was made King and ruler that day.
On a warm June afternoon in Runnymede meadow,
A relentless, cruel king was forced to meet his ultimate destiny;
The impact of his royal seal upon Magna Carta he did not know,
Nor how it would become the foundation of laws to make men forever free.
I open my eyes, and see the ruins of the Benedictine priory,
And I reflect on the foibles and folly of mankind, both old and new;
I wonder if the rule of law will fall into ruins like that old abbey,
Or withstand the winds and storms of time, like the Ankerwycke yew.
The Magna Carta was a treaty signed on June, 15, 1215, limiting forever the rights of kings to place themselves above the law and creating the most famous constitutional document in the English-speaking world. Legend has it that it was signed under the Ankerwycke yew, and tree near Wraysbury in Berkshire, England and is estimated to be 2500 years old.
(See Smithsonian Magazine, July/Aug 2015 Issue)