“I think that I shall never see, a poem lovely as a tree.” This is of course the opening stanza of the poem “Trees.” Written February 2, 1913, it is the most acknowledged and published work of American poet Alfred Joyce Kilmer (December 6, 1886 – July 30, 1918). It is easily one of the most well-known and recognizable lines of poetry ever written.
You’ll never see a poem lovely as a tree? But poems are written on paper and paper comes from wood – which is trees. So you could see a poem as lovely as a tree. Or at least the paper it was written on could be just as lovely because it is (or was?) that lovely tree, right? If a tree falls in the woods and no one’s there to hear it fall, is it still a tree? When is a tree no longer a tree… when it dies or starts being ugly? Of course if you cut down the lovely tree to make the lovely paper, you would no longer be able to see the tree. So would the poem win the beauty contest by default? Why not just split the difference and carve the poetry into the lovely tree – poetree? Would that lovely up the poem… or just f*** up the tree?
Unnecessary defacement (lovely or not) of nature aside, the poet obviously did not mean for this to be taken in the literal sense. What he expresses is that for all of mankind’s lavish expressions of art (writing and poetry are considered art forms) none can compare to the sheer simplistic beauty of nature. Seeing as how all materials and original inspiration come from natural sources, this comes as no surprise. Yet the poet manages to capture this expression of realization with just two simple lines of poetry. But he didn’t stop there.
Unbeknownst to many non-poetic types these lines are just the first two of twelve that continue thusly: “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.”
Dude really had a thing for trees. It seems as though he uses the metaphor of a woman’s body to express the natural beauty of a tree. Is that what you got out of it too? Regardless of interpretation, one must respect the obvious utter humility of the poet captured by the last stanza. Insulting himself, thereby submitting to the fact that to try and do anything by way of an improved natural comparison is a fool’s errand. We cannot beat nature’s motif…or can we?
No we cannot make a tree. But we can cut that tree down and make other stuff out of it. Will the stuff be as lovely as a tree? Well that depends on whether you’d rather have a lovely tree or a lovely bookshelf in your living room. Lovely is in the eye of the beholder but we needn’t destroy something to create something we already are.
Often throurh human arrogance we forget that we are part of nature. We do not just sit back and bear witness to the natural world – we are all up in that nature. We have the capacity to create beauty that does not pale in comparison to nature. Because what we create is natural – though for the most part creating beauty is not in our nature. Still we can be just as lovely, in our own stupid little human way, as that tree.
Irony strikes here with the realization that a lovely chainsaw cut down a lovely tree, so it could be made into lovely paper. So a poet could write a lovely poem about how lovely trees are. So a lovely Chainsaw (how ‘bout cute maybe?) could write a lovely article about said lovely poem. So that you could read it…lovingly, and perhaps find some lovely humor in it. Maybe you’re not as lovely as a tree now, but that smile is a nice start.
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