The Oak King

Traditionally, the oak king was a sacrifice, given half a year, or seven years, of the high life, then summarily cut down to make way for his heir. That being the case, I don’t know quite what to make of having the appellation handed to me when I still have much I hope to accomplish in the time I have left to me.

So rather than accept tradition, I’ll do what I often do in my books when a piece of folklore I want to use doesn’t quite fit into the particular context of how I want to use it: I reinvent it. Here I’ve taken a stanza from an older poem of mine called ‘The Calendar of the Trees’ and expanded it to six for a longer exploration of the ideas of oaks, autumn, and mystery.Be well and live full lives.

Oak am I and I burn green in midsummer.
I speak in smoke hill to hill and
wave to wave to court the summer storms;
my roots run as deep as my boughs reach high.

Oak am I and I open the door into the green world
when autumn gathers the cloak of winter
and draws its white folds across the summer hills;
my sap quickens the dreaming king in his barrow.

Oak am I and I bear witness to the salmon
sleeping in the shadows pooled beneath my boughs.
I am the ravensong and the harp of the red wolves;
my seeds wake the drum of the white stag’s hooves.

Oak am I and I court the autumn mother,
her skin tattooed with the patterns of the harvest,
her eyes the dark of the welcoming night;
my boughs weave the promise that she will return.

Oak am I and I walk when the moon walks.
My stride takes me on the back of the west wind
to where the dreams of men mingle in the green world;
my mystery is the riddle from which all riddles spring.

Oak am I and I bid you welcome and well-met.
In the hazards and perils that challenge our lives,
when summer wakes when summer sleeps,
I charge you with the care of these lands and each other.

Charles de Lint,
Ottawa, Canada
October 8, 2003
© Charles de Lint
All rights reserved by Charles de Lint. No reproduction in any form whatsoever may be made of this writing in part or in whole.

About Charles de Lint

Charles de Lint is a full-time writer and musician who makes his home in Ottawa, Canada. This author of more than seventy adult, young adult, and children’s books has won the World Fantasy, Aurora, Sunburst, and White Pine awards, among others. Modern Library’s Top 100 Books of the 20th Century poll, voted on by readers, put eight of de Lint’s books among the top 100. De Lint is also a poet, artist, songwriter, performer and folklorist, and he writes a monthly book-review column for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. For more information, visit his web site at