Under A Spreading Chestnut Tree

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Paul Conneally under a young and spreading chestnut tree

As walkers on the Autumn 2013 iteration of artist activist Anne-Marie Culhane’s Fruit Routes walk at Loughborough University they find me, once again taken hostage by nature, stood below a sweet chestnut tree, a board hung around my neck with these words chalked upon it:

under the spreading chestnut tree
I sold you and you sold me

George Orwell ‘1984’

I say a few words about chestnuts, chastity and hope and then read not Orwell but the words to an old big band song urging the gathered to get their smart phones out and “tweet tweet tweet” at the appropriate point.

UNDERNEATH THE SPREADING CHESTNUT TREE

Underneath the spreading chestnut tree,
I loved her and she loved me,
There she used to sit upon my knee
‘Neath the spreading chestnut tree.

There beneath the boughs we used to meet,
All her kisses were so sweet,
All the little birds went “tweet, tweet, tweet,”
‘Neath the spreading chestnut tree.

I said, “I love you, and there ain’t no ifs or buts,”
She said, ”I love you,” and the blacksmith shouted “Chestnuts!”

Underneath the spreading chestnut tree,
There she said she’d marry me,
Now you ought to see our family
‘Neath the spreading chestnut tree.

Orwell alludes to the song, also a Boy Scouts campfire favourite, with actions and both Orwell and the song allude to the Longfellow poem The Village Blacksmith:

The Village Blacksmith

Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.

His hair is crisp, and black, and long,
His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
He earns whate’er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man.

Week in, week out, from morn till night,
You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
With measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
When the evening sun is low.

And children coming home from school
Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge,
And hear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly
Like chaff from a threshing-floor.

He goes on Sunday to the church,
And sits among his boys;
He hears the parson pray and preach,
He hears his daughter’s voice,
Singing in the village choir,
And it makes his heart rejoice.

It sounds to him like her mother’s voice,
Singing in Paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipes
A tear out of his eyes.

Toiling,–rejoicing,–sorrowing,
Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night’s repose.

Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Paul Conneally
Loughborough
October 2013

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