The Boy by the Birch Tree

Do you see?  Can you see where the boy sits alone
By the birch tree, my son of six years and a day.
Every morning he sits there on top of that stone;
I come out to chop wood as I watch him at play.
    Yes, there he is, old man, up yonder.
    And yet I wonder; only six?
    Of course he must be older.
    Is not his eye now sharp and bright,
    His muscles thick, his mind so keen,
    His manner ever bolder?
You are fooled by the shadows of falling birch leaves.
Let the sun rise a moment more then you will see:
He is sickly and small, and his chest often heaves.
He will never hold axe or chop firewood like me.
    It was the light! (But he is right:
    The lad is cold and lean.)
    But come now and explain to me –
    The boy was six when last I came –
    What does this marvel mean?
For these seventeen years I have come every morn
To the birch where I work and I watch him at play.
But his age does remain – for him time has not worn
All these seventeen years – but six years and a day.
    Come now with me, (tis worse than they said!)
    Come join me in my carriage.
    The boy you see is but a shade,
    A memory of your marriage.
Does the shadow obscure him so you cannot see?
He is there!  On the stone at the right of the tree.
He will leave at high noon, then a new guest for me
On the stone at the left side his mother will be.
    You have forgotten your own life.
    The boy is dead these sixteen years
    And buried is your wife.
Have a care how you speak, let your words be but mild.
- Look there under the tree, the good mother is near -
I live only to ponder my wife and our child.
And a man who says other should live in my fear!
    (He is more dangerous than they said –
    What madness have I fed?)
You insult me in words uttered not to my face!
I know now that you came in no wise as a friend.
I have shown you goodwill, but you've mocked at my grace.
Now the firewood is done, so let this be your end.
    Lay down the axe, old man! -
There’s a new guest to join you, dear wife by the tree.
When the sun sets more guests come; I watch them with joy.
For they came here to take me – but fearing they’d flee,
I have given them welcome, like you and our boy.

About this poem

A poem meant to be read in two alternating voices, each represented by a different meter. This is a dialogue.

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Written on August 26, 2012

Submitted by JohnsMusings on June 11, 2022

Modified on March 05, 2023

2:30 min read

Quick analysis:

Closest metre Iambic pentameter
Characters 2,240
Words 501
Stanzas 13
Stanza Lengths 4, 6, 4, 5, 4, 4, 4, 3, 4, 2, 4, 1, 4

John M. Broadhead

John grew up in a rural area outside Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he was afforded endless room for his imagination to grow from an early age. Filmmaking was his first passion, a passion which led him to screenwriting and then to poetry and prose. His Bachelors degree is in English Literature, and he has written several feature length screenplays, two science fiction novels and a collection of poetry. He still lives in Albuquerque. Please follow me at for news about my upcoming novel release! more…

All John M. Broadhead poems | John M. Broadhead Books

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    "The Boy by the Birch Tree" STANDS4 LLC, 2024. Web. 15 Jul 2024. <>.

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