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Poetic Analysis for "The Trees"
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Poetic Analysis for "The Trees"
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     Philip Larkin's "The Trees" is a twelve-line poem that seems to compare the life and cycles of a tree to human experience. Riddled with personification of leaves, buds, and bark as spoken words, grief, and countless other abstract items, each line of the poem draws a connection between the anatomy and activity of a tree to the emotions and philosophy of a human closing and opening various chapters in his or her life.

     As technical matters go, the twelve lines of the poem are arranged into four-line stanzas. In each stanza, the first and fourth line rhyme with one another in a true rhyme pattern (i.e. lines 5 and 8: again, grain) while the second and third lines work in an additional true rhyme (i.e. lines 6 and 7: too, new). In complete, this rhyme scheme appears in the following pattern: A B B A - C D D C - E F F E. There is also a consistent iambic foot and tetrameter rhythm. This simply means that the rhythm alternates between unstressed and stressed syllables, and there is one of each in each foot. Tetrameter refers to the fact that there are four "feet" in each line, giving the entire poem a see-saw balance (line 4: "Their green-ness is a kind of grief").

     In lines 9-12, select words are presented to the reader almost as sound effects (lines 9 and 12: thresh, afresh). These words, when spoken aloud, can almost sound as the leaves of trees would when being rustled by the wind. As this poem comments on the passage of time and a cycle of death and rebirth, could these winds perhaps be the winds of change?

     A key phrase in this piece that is worth specific consideration comes in lines 7 and 8. It reads "Their yearly trick of looking new/ Is written down in rings of grain." The literal meaning of the phrase refers to the growth pattern of a tree: The growing part of a tree is found at the outer edges, just under the bark. When one looks at a cross-section of a trunk, one can see a pattern of the alternating thick and thin circles of early wood and late wood, and these are the trees' growth rings. Although a tree appears to be reborn and new each Spring, its age and processes are shown on the inside.

     On a more figurative level, many perspectives can be taken from these lines. One possibility is the old expression that "thing are not always as they seem" and that the answers may lie under the surface. More likely is the understanding that although human beings begin new experiences and new chapters in their lives, their old experiences will always be with them. It is an individual's experiences, after all, that make up who they are! Much like a tree, a person will never fully lose the years that have passed them by, and the valuable experience will collect inside them like rings of grain.

     A third and negatively abstract perspective of the lines deals with the three D's: deceit, disguise, and denial. It speaks to the idea that though the tree itself does its best to hide the layers of death and destruction resulting from its natural cycle, there are always other means of judging its age. For instance, the pure size of a tree will lend a clue to its current age, as well as the presence of or lack of vegetation surrounding its base. Similarly, many human beings choose to partake in age-defying treatments such as botox, cosmetic surgery, or chemical creams. Still, questions remain. Will this sort of treatment change the 1950's slang that still manages to creep into this person's daily conversation, or the myriad of stories they have to tell about the first Elvis concert they saw? Will this person's friends all appear as young as they? These are all questions that can only be answered in the negative. Looking young and being young can be too very different things, as the trees would tell you if they truly had the human qualities assigned to them in this fascinating poem.

The Trees
 
The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.
 
Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.
 
Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.
 
-Philip Larkin