Cover image for trees by joyce Kilmer

Trees by Joyce Kilmer: Hidden Meaning and Analysis

What do you feel when you look at a tree? Do you feel connected to nature, or God? Have you ever wondered how something can be so majestic and beautiful and at the same time the primal reason for our survival or how the hue of its leaves changes constantly under the sunlight? It looks like a work of art. But who is the Creator? Let’s see what the poem “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer shows about it.

The poem, “Trees”, follows a simple rhyming pattern, and a simple form suggesting harmony, order, and balance, yet it talks about something unfathomable as well.

The poet has tried to convey to the readers that he shall never see, “a poem lovely as a tree”, suggesting that a human being cannot even write or create something as majestic or beautiful as a tree.“Trees” is a short poem, consisting of twelve lines, but it holds a lot of significance in terms of its meaning and message.

The title “Trees” might seem simple, but it is after reading the poem that we realize its intensity. The poet has tried to connect us with nature, and most importantly tried to acknowledge the wonders of God. It depicts that, though the season has changed from summer to winter, the tree stands tall and prays as well by lifting its “leafy arms”. 

Trees by Joyce Kilmer 

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest

Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,

And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear

A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;

Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.

Meaning and Summary of the Poem

The poet starts the poem simply by telling us that he will never see or create something as lovely as the tree. Then, in the next line, he tells us that the tree is alive because of the soil, through which it is fed by Mother Nature.

Just as a mother feeds a child, in the same way, the roots of the tree that are inside the soil are getting fed and the tree is going to be healthy. Moreover, the poet considers the tree to be lucky because they are looking at God throughout the day and even pray to God by lifting their “leafy arms”,i.e, the branches of the tree.

During Summer, the tree hosts the nests of birds like Robin, which makes it even more beautiful. During winter, the snow lays on the “bosom” of the tree and describes the intimate relationship between a tree and rain. Kilmer says that “fools” like him are only capable of writing poems to describe the beauty of something created by God. 

Analysis of the Poem

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.

The poem starts in a direct manner, where the poet seems very sure of his future and makes a statement that he is never going to see a poem that is as “lovely” as a tree.

Here, we start to get an idea about the poet and what he feels about trees. It is in these two lines that the poet has set a sense of contrast between humans and God. Though the poet knows that the poem is not going to be as majestic or beautiful as a tree, he gives it a try to describe it.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest

Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

In these two lines, the poet says that the tree is “hungry” and its “hungry” mouth is pressed against “the earth’s sweet flowing breast”, explaining that the roots of the tree soak in water from the soil.

A tree that looks at God all day,

And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

In this couplet, the poet has tried to explain that the trees are looking at “God” throughout the day and that they lift their “leafy arms”, i.e., branches to pray to God. Maybe, the poet here has tried to tell us that if a tree is looking at God all day and praying to him, then aren’t we all Creations of God, then shouldn’t we pray?

A tree that may in Summer wear

A nest of robins in her hair;

The tree during summer is a host for birds like Robin to make their nest, which makes the tree look more beautiful. Here, the poet adds the theme of seasons, that despite the seasonal changes, without any protection, the tree thrives and not only that but acts as a shelter.

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;

Who intimately lives with rain.

The poet tells us that the snow lays on the “bosom” of the tree, and yet it remains unaffected. The tree and rain share an intimate relationship because rain is largely responsible for a tree surviving.

Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.

In the last two lines, the poet does not resist calling himself a “fool”, for writing a poem knowing the fact that it can be nothing compared to the beauty of the “tree”. He describes that the poet, a mere human being, can simply write a poem describing the beauty of the tree, but it is just God who can “ make a tree”.

Trees by Joyce Kilmer
Trees by Joyce Kilmer

Themes in the Poem

Joyce Kilmer has tried to keep the form simple, depicting harmony, balance, and order. But, several underlying themes describe the intensity of the poem. They include:

Nature – the first and foremost theme that we understand after reading this poem is Nature. Throughout the poem, the poet has explained the beauty of nature, by focusing on a tree. Not just that, but he has also added several elements to this like, the earth, the sky, birds, snow, summer, and rain.

Faith- The poet has displayed his faith in God, through this poem. In this poem, the poet has suggested that humans can never create something as majestic or lovely as a tree, which is a creation of God.

Moreover, the poet has tried to compare human art and the divine creation of God throughout the poem, revealing that he is a “fool” to write a poem about his creation. 

Literary Devices

The poem can be seen and read as a simple one, but it consists of a range of literary devices. These are the literary devices used in the poem “Trees”:

Alliteration – Alliteration has been used prominently in the third couplet (lines 5 and 6):

A tree that looks at God all day

And lifts her leafy arms to pray

Enjambment– Enjambment has been used in the entire poem. Here are a few examples:

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.

A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;

Juxtaposition – The poet has used juxtaposition in the following lines to compare and contrast human creation with God’s creation.

Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.

Personification – In the poem, the poet has personified the “Trees”, to be a female. For example;

And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A nest of robins in her hair;

Anaphora – The poet has used Anaphora in the following lines:

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest

A tree that looks at God all day,

A tree that may in Summer wear

Conclusion

The poet wrote the poem in the year 1913, during that time Kilmer’s daughter was stricken with poliomyelitis, and it was then that Kilmer turned to religious faith for comfort.

The poem “Trees” was written soon after he converted to Roman Catholicism. He has tried to manifest and express all his faith through this poem. I believe that it is during the tough times that we look around us and not just see but start to feel, we look at nature and realize its beauty and how something so simple and yet so perfect can just be a creation of God.

Moreover, we can also believe that maybe Kilmer had been affected by the Industrial Revolution, and therefore through this poem he has indirectly tried to convey that no matter what humans create or make, it is going to be nothing compared to the art and work of God.

His faith was his biggest companion during these tough times as said; 

Kilmer would stop every morning for months on his way to the office and prayed for faith,” and maybe faith did come to him.

It is a message for all the readers that we know we cannot make something as beautiful and majestic as God’s creation and maybe we will be called a “fool” for trying to imitate it, but that does not mean we won’t give it a try. No matter what we create, it will always be inferior to God’s creation, because we are God’s creation.

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