Analysis of Philip Larkin's "The Trees"

Analysis of Philip Larkin's The Trees

Philip Larkin's poem "The Trees" is about a tree's ability to be reborn, which is something that Larkin appears to be very envious of. This poem is also reminiscent of Larkin's poem "Sad Steps," which talks about how the moon is reborn again and again while the narrator has to face his own mortality. "The Trees" is comprised of three stanzas of four lines with the rhyme scheme of abba. Some of the major themes of this poem are: the effects of time, rebirth, immortality, and the loneliness of death.

In the first stanza, the trees are just coming into bloom, which means that it is spring time. The buds (or flowers) are relaxing their conical shape and spreading out their flowers to receive the sun's warmth. "Greenness" could be referring to two things: first, their color; and second, their naivety. They are naïve both because they are new sprouts, and because they don't know good they have it; nature has blessed them with the wonderful ability to be reborn every season unlike humans who live their life and die with no chance of renewal. It is this "greenness" that grieves the narrator, because he is envious of their immortality.

In stanza two, the narrator begins to question the lifespan of the trees. He compares the trees life-cycle to a human's lifespan. The trees grow old just like humans do, but they have a clever "yearly trick," which keeps them looking new. They lose all of their leaves in the fall, appearing to be dead, but in the springtime the leaves reappear. The trees are able to grow taller without anyone really paying them much attention due to the fact that without their leaves and flowers they are not all that attractive to look at. One never really knows the age of a tree unless they look at the pattern of growth rings etched into grain of the tree. Humans do not have this luxury; our age is visible in our wrinkles, gray hair, and gait.

The trees never rest (die) they are continuously reborn, growing, and aging. "Castles" refers to place of privacy, security, or refuge; the fullness of the trees creates a sort of fortress, which protects those who hide under them. The trees "thresh" (thrash- to move around violently) around in the wind every May, without fail. "Last year is dead" that cycle is over, and a new one begins. The trees are personified in the last two lines when the narrator says that "they seem to say, begin afresh, afresh, afresh." The trees constantly get to start over, what would you do if you could begin your again? What would you do differently?


Ferguson, Margaret, ed. The Norton Anthology of Poetry. New York: Norton, 2005. 1031-1032.


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