The Trees – Philip Larkin – Analysis

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 full grown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.
Philip Larkin (1922 – 1985)

It is spring in Canberra, so these words are very apt. And as it is now Australian spring so May translates to September.

S1 … I do like that second line of the first stanza – like something almost being said – it articulates that almost opening of buds and leaves and gives voice to the season; personifying. The last line of this stanza catches you in thought, why grief?  There is a kind of greenness – I guess they don’t know quite what they are in for and what mother nature will throw at their fragility. And with so much extreme weather happening and it is not so easy to be a tree. They may feel sorrow too for all their dead family leafage on the ground.

S2 … Hopefully we will experience many years of seeing seasonal changes. And no, they are not born again. We know they are not dead although, metaphorically, we call them dead in winter. They have a hidden dormant time, and it is well known that the age of tree can be measured by counting the rings in a section of the trunk. So, they are not born again but the transition into new life which is a kind of birth. The tree is coming into green life, at least the deciduous variety. PL states that we die too like the tree. So PL alludes to the question of a possible human transition.

S3 … I do like the idea of trees being unresting castles. They grow continually and get stronger and stronger. So, they are increasingly capable of weathering the vicissitudes of climate, but not human interference of course. It is that last line that gives voice to the whispering of the wind in the branches; again; highlighting the personification. And I have learnt an innovative word to my vocabulary in that regard – ‘susurration’ thanks to our poetry appreciation group. This equally has that onomatopoeia effect.

susurration = whispering or rustling.

Rustling would be my choice in relation to trees, though they can indeed whisper which has a more communicative sense.

personification = the attribution of a personal nature or human characteristics to something non-human.

onomatopoeia = the naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it

Philip Larkin on Wikipedia

Philip Larkin’s ‘Whitsunday Weddings’ is one of my favourite poems.