The trees by philip larkin Analysis~ By Melanie Lim
Philip larkin • Philip Arthur Larkin, (9 August 1922 – 2 December 1985). Died of oesophageal cancer. • Father loved literature and showed enthusiasm for Nazism. • Mother was dominated by father. • Larkin began at Oxford University in October 1940, a year after the outbreak of World War II. • After graduating from Oxford in 1943 with a first First-class honours degree in English literature, Larkin became a librarian. It was during the thirty years he served as an university librarian, he produced the greater part of his published work. • Had multiple partners throughout his life. • Was distressed about Monica’s shingles illness (1983). • Is a poet whose work is very popular, despite his reputation for being a pessimistic, death-obsessed and darkly humorous observer of humanity.
POEM The Trees by Philip Larkin The trees are coming into leaf Like something almost being sad;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 of looking new. Is it 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.
RHYTHM & RHYMING SCHEME • It has an a,b,b,a c,d,d,c and e,f,f,e rhyming pattern. • The poem has an iambic tetrameter, meaning that it consists of four “iambic feet,” thus meaning a total of eight syllables per line.
OVERVIEW • Larkin uses a straightforward, almost chatty diction. • Comparison of life and cycles of a tree to human experiences. • Larkin starts with optimism, but undermines the optimism as the stanza goes on. This occurs in the first two stanzas, but in the third (last) stanza it ends with optimism.
ANNOTATIONS “Is it that they are born again And we grow old? No, they die too. ” Personification and comparison are mainly used to compare the life and cycles of a tree to human experiences in the poem. Enjambment is used too to undermine the optimism. As the outer layers are reborn, the inner layers are still growing old. (As it “is written down in the rings of grain”). It is a false façade or a “mask” which hides the truth , and like humans, as they begin new experiences/chapters in their lives, their old experiences are still with them. What and individual experiences is what makes them who they are. Like trees, people will not fully lose their personal experiences (and the skills they may have learnt from it), the valuable experiences will collect inside them like “rings of grain”.
ANNOTATIONs “buds relax and spread” Personification of buds. “rings of grain” Our experiences in our life aren’t shown on the surface, but are hidden inside our thoughts. “unresting castles” Metaphor to describe the tree as a fortress hiding or something hidden.
ANNOTATIONS “The trees are coming into leaf” (The first line of the poem). They’re ‘turning a new leaf’ and starting new. “Their greenness is a kind of grief.” The end of the first stanza ends with pessimism. From the moment you’re born, you’re destined to die.
ANNOTATIONS “Their yearly trick of looking new Is written down in rings of grain.” The end of the second stanza also ends with pessimism (as in both stanza one and two, it both undermines the starting optimism). Putting all that we’ve gathered from this poem we can say that the leaves “looking new” is a “trick” as “they die too”, which undercuts even the “greenness” of the Spring (“May”) leaves, making it “a kind of grief.”
ANNOTATIONS “thresh” “afresh, afresh, afresh” “May” “say” Sibilance & the long vowel sounds. The sound effects evoke an imagery of how leaves of trees are rustled by the wind. Possibly the winds of change. “Last year is dead, they seem to say, Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.” The end of the poem renews “freshness” and ends with optimism. A ‘new start’ like the ‘new chapters’ in a human being’s life.
THEMES • Nature • The Metaphysical • Life and Death • Growing old and the experiences concerned with growing old.