‘The Trees’ is written by Philip Arthur Larkin was an English novelist, poet and a librarian. He was born on 9th August 1922 and graduated in English language and literature in 1943. He worked at the Brynmor Jones Library for thirty years and it was during this time that most of his work got published. There was a melancholy in his poems and Eric Homberger called him “the saddest heart in the post-war supermarket”. As a person Philip Larkin was a no-nonsense person who did not like fame and all the trappings that came with a celebrity. He lead a life much to his own with a limited circle of friends. He was offered the position on Poet Laureate in 1984 after of the death of Sir John Betjeman, that year.
Larkin was an admirer of the poetry of Thomas Hardy. Larking learnt to write the dreary and common place details of life from Thomas Hardy’s poems. Larkin’s first collection of poems was The North Ship and it was published in 1945. He wrote two novels after his first book of poems. His second collection of poems known as The Less Deceived shot him to fame and thereafter his poems always received critical acclaim. Larkin became a prominent poet of his period and he was the main voice of a group called ‘The Movement’. Apart from writing poems and novels he also contributed to The Daily Telegraph. In 2003 Poetry Book Soicety chose Philip Larkin as the best-loved poet of the previous 50 years. In 2016 a floor stone memorial was built at Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey. The poem The Trees is from the collection the High Windows which was his last book of poems.
The Tree is a poem on nature and about death. At the first reading the poem only talks about the tree but as we read it again there is more to it – the indication of death and grief. There is suggestive mix of emotions and it delivered with very few words. ‘The Trees’ is also about the ability to be reborn. It is also similar to Philip Larkin’s another poem ‘Sad Steps’ which is about the moon being born again and again but the narrator has to meet the inevitable death. This poem has three stanzas with four lines in each stanza. The rhyme scheme is ‘ABBA’
In the first stanza the poet writes about the trees sprouting new leaves. ‘Coming into leaf’ is indicating that the leaves are appearing again. This means it is spring time. It is as if the tree is saying something. The buds are in a relaxed manner opening up to receive the warmth of the sun. As the leaves are opening up the greenness is also opening up. ‘Greenness’ connotes two meanings. One is direct which refers to colour and the other refers to naivety. Anything or anyone young is naïve, so too the young leaves are naïve. The poet goes on to follow the greenness with ‘is a kind of grief’. This tells that this poem is not only about trees but is something more than that. The main idea of these four lines is that the new leaves that are coming are a kind of grief. Why grief? Grief that the leaves will die soon and that there need not be any joy about it. This line can be interpreted as the poet’s grief that he is mortal while the tree will be reborn again. Greenness and grief is alliteration and there is a repetition of the vowel ‘e’ that creates a rhythm in it.
The ‘grief’ mentioned in the first stanza is explained in the second stanza. Though the new leaves appear again and again making us feel that the tree is born each time, the tree too, in reality, is aging. The age is ‘written’ in the rings of the trunk of the tree. Are the leaves a cosmetic makeover of the trees? Human beings grow old but not the trees. The poet is quick to add that it is not so. The leaves are just a façade of youthful appearance while the age is being recorded within the tree. The life-span of the tree and human beings are compared. Trees also grow old but it is slower and they trick us to be looking young as long as they live. They grow taller and bigger without anybody really noticing. This play of the tree goes on year after year. To pull down this façade or to know the age of the tree one has to cut a portion and check the rings of the tree. Humans cannot hide their age and even if they put on makeup, their age will show soon and there is no question of being reborn in the same form after death.
In the final stanza the tree is called a ‘castle’. It is a castle in many ways. When the tree is full of leaves it looks luxuriant. It is a home, a protection for all those who come under it or take refuge in it; for this reason too it can be compared to a castle. It is in May month one sees the tree in its full glory. The trees seem to say that last year is gone, a thing of past and is dead. But it is not gone forever. That departure is to begin afresh. By repeating the word ‘afresh’ three times, he is driving home the point it is not dead and is always being born again. The lyrical value is heightened by using the ‘afresh’ many times and it is as if the trees are themselves repeating this word. The Tree is a clear and compact poem giving the reader a glimpse into the inevitable part in human life, death, using tree as a metaphor. This brief lyric looks into man’s mortality; despite knowing it we still give the best. The Tree is a small poem packed with a lot to think about and it is through the simple tree in the nature.