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History of Colcock Hall

The Hervey Allen Oak

In 1919, poet and novelist Hervey Allen came to Charleston to teach English at Porter Military Academy. Allen’s best-known poem, “The Blindman,” was widely read and hailed as the birth of the "lost generation" of the 1920s. His novel Anthony Adverse was one of the biggest selling novels of the 1930s and was later made into the Warner Brothers film of the same name, starring Olivia de Havilland and Fredric March. His time in Charleston coincided with the city’s Literary Renaissance. Allen befriended Charleston writers such as DuBose Heyward, John Bennett and Laura Bragg and in 1919 he helped found the Poetry Society of South Carolina. Allen’s poem about the Porter Oak appeared in the first school annual. That same oak survives at the southwest corner of Colcock Hall.

The Old Oak Tree

I am the oldest and noblest thing at Porter.
I have no vices nor any small virtues.
I neither teach nor preach.
I am perfect in beauty.
God made me.

Before the school I was.
A century ago
I saw them bury men in the cemetery
When the yellow fever flitted through the land.
I saw the Arsenal grow up about me.
I heard the gun fired at Sumpter
That killed a million men.
I saw the men in the blue go—
They went in the night, and hurriedly,
Burying their great cannon.
Then came the men in gray.

Then a furnace light beat upon the walls
And men toiled day and night casting huge cannon,
For it was the war, the drums beat in the streets.
Then the grass grew there
And my leaves shivered to the federal cannon
That drew nearer and nearer.
One day the men in gray went
And the blue-coats came again.

Then a silence fell upon the land,
The cannon gaped and rusted;
Birds build in their mouths;

Sorrow and desolation filled the land.
While men hated each other and cursed
I grew more beautiful day by day.

At last a man came with the love of Christ in this heart,
Full of sorrow and faith and great pity.
He brought the boys on muleback;
He brought the boys by wagon;
He brought the boys by boat;
He brought the boys—
The old arsenal became a school.

Under my branches now sounds the murmur of young voices
From the school rooms where faithful men toiled.
Day after day, year after year,
The seed, which a good man planted,
Like the acorn from which I sprang,
Has grown great. I watch and wait.
The school grows. Boys come and go,
But I remain.

Before you go, look at me!
I am the oldest and noblest thing at Porter.
I saw to you:
Grow up strong and beautiful;
Strike your roots deep;
Stand up firmly against the storm;
Throw out sheltering arms to others;
Live to a gracious and noble old age.

Hervey Allen


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