Incredibly enough, trees have always been part of the most interesting pieces of literature and readings. They have been portrayed by some of the greatest names in literature, from Shakespeare to Robert Frost.
As I write, it is summer, and with it, the draw of being close to a tree and benefiting from its shade is on the rise. This small but inspiring selection of poems can feed the body and the soul during any season. In fact, poems can enrich our imagination and remind us that trees are really amazing. From a cherry tree to an oak, they all have their specificity and beauty. Trees are not only vegetation, part of the plant system – they are related to many allusions, meta-verses and figurative meanings. Trees can be so much more than wood and leaves standing upright. They are also a path into living. Let’s see how…
Let’s start with this magnificent one. This is ‘Orpheus with his Lute Made Trees’ by William Shakespeare, and you can see in your mind’s eye the forest created by the music.
Orpheus with his lute made trees,
And the mountain tops that freeze,
Bow themselves, when he did sing:
To his music plants and flowers
Ever sprung; as sun and showers
There had made a lasting spring.
Everything that heard him play,
Even the billows of the sea,
Hung their heads, and then lay by.
In sweet music is such art,
Killing care and grief of heart
Fall asleep, or hearing, die.
‘The Loveliest of Trees, The Cherry Now,’ by A. E. Housman elicits a romantic sensation in verse – the experience of seeing a cherry tree blossoming. If you have not yet seen one in real life, it is highly recommended. They are works of art by nature, delivering year after year a unique show.
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more …
‘The Cherry’ is believed to be one of the most widely anthologised poems ever. In it, the speaker reflects on age and years to be lived ahead. Meanwhile life goes on, the author can still appreciate the cherry blossom. Trees are also connected with time and living from a metaphoric point of view; not only with the seasons, but with the years passing by. Thus, trees would be showing us the importance of living and enjoying life.
Another great addition to the tree compilation is from Robert Louis Stevenson, who has immortalised some of the best words in English literature. ‘The Wind Is Without There, And Howls In The Trees’ is capable of taking us to another time and season, and to nature.
The wind is without there and howls in the trees,
And the rain-flurries drum on the glass:
Alone by the fireside with elbows on knees
I can number the hours as they pass.
Yet now, when to cheer me the crickets begin,
And my pipe is just happily lit,
Believe me, my friend, tho’ the evening draws in,
That not all uncontested I sit.
Alone, did I say? O no, nowise alone
With the Past sitting warm on my knee,
To gossip of days that are over and gone,
But still charming to her and to me.
With much to be glad of and much to deplore,
Yet, as these days with those we compare,
Believe me, my friend, tho’ the sorrows seem more
They are somehow more easy to bear.
And thou, faded Future, uncertain and frail,
As I cherish thy light in each draught,
His lamp is not more to the miner – their sail
Is not more to the crew on the raft.
For Hope can make feeble ones earnest and brave,
And, as forth thro’ the years I look on,
Believe me, my friend, between this and the grave,
I see wonderful things to be done.
This poem brings such a concrete sensation of the wind playing with trees. Who hasn’t experienced that sound? The feeling of ‘between-things’ is stretched much further, and with a positive outcome, brings certainty to the things to be.
Of course, we cannot forget the immortalised author of ‘If’ – Rudyard Kipling. However, this time, he is travelling ‘The Way through the Woods.’
They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath,
And the thin anemones …
The poem sees a road through the woods being rediscovered, and is full of symbolism and ambiguity. Moreover, the poem also adds to the fact that trees may have various meanings, concrete and symbolic.
Robert Frost brings his version of the woods, portrayed in this winter scene. ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ tells us about a man travelling the woods some distance away from a village. Frost describes the experience of passing by and observing the snow falling upon the trees. Everything is silent, apart from the soft wind and the slight sound of snowfall.
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
The poem sounds musical and reminds us that even our most seemingly pure encounter with the realness of nature is one mediated by our greatest expectations.
Anyway, if you’re looking for some inspiring poems to read, The Poetry Foundation has more than 40.000 waiting for you – all free at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems
But, if you are looking for some tree specific ones, this website is incredible and includes the beautiful piece ‘One White Tree’ by the grand master, J.R.R. Tolkein: http://famouspoetsandpoems.com/thematic_poems/tree_poems.html
Last thought but certainly not least, maybe trees and life are just the two faces of the same coin…