Critical Analysis of Philip Larkin’s The Trees

Critical Analysis of Philip Larkin’s “The Trees”

Critical Analysis of Philip Larkin’s “The Trees” : Philip Larkin’s poem “The Trees” deals with a commonplace phenomenon in nature. He has described it in a very detached and philosophical vein. Philip Larkin’s poem “The Trees” was composed in 1967; and it was published in a famous collection of poems, “High Windows” in 1974. In this volume of poems, Philip Larkin has dealt with a theme of death and ephemeral nature of life.

Philip Larkin has been considered as one of the prominent poets in the arena of English poetry of the post-second World War period. He was associated with the Movement Poetry of the 1950s.

Critical Analysis of Philip Larkin’s “The Trees”

As a movement poet, Philip Larkin has rejected any idealized image of life and composed his poems in a style without any ornamentation and experimentation like the modernists. He has depicted a very ordinary and commonplace thing with rational and intellectual tone in “The Trees”. Philip Larkin is an urban poet who embraces the reality that life in modern times has changed a lot whether one likes it or not.


In autumn season, the trees shed their old leaves while the new ones appear on the top of the trees on the arrival of spring season. The poet has artistically conveyed an association between life, death and rebirth in the very beginning of the first stanza. He always sees life and death hand in hand which are followed by rebirth. The process of regeneration and decay is a perpetual process.

In his poem “The Trees” Philip Larkin has described a commonplace thing in nature. During winter season, the trees are clad in barren branches as they shed their leaves in winter and with the advent of spring season they again put on a new garb of green leaves. The poet has minutely recorded the ordinary thing in nature and observed both life and death in it.

“The Trees are coming into leaf

Like something almost being said;

The recent buds relax and spread,

Their greenness is a kind of grief.” 

The Theme of Life, Death and Rebirth:

In “The Trees” Philip Larkin has commented upon the theme of life and death with an ordinary image in nature. The new and fresh leaves on the top of the trees seem to impart a message of regeneration and life to humanity. They deliver a message of joy and hope to people. They also make the poet brood over the theme of death as life and death go hand in hand: “Their greenness is a kind of grief”.

It is familiar feature in flowering season, the appearance of buds on the stalks. The fresh life in the buds and the greenness reminds the poet of death {grief}. The poet has made a paradoxical statement; he finds grief or death in greenness. He has elaborated his statement in the second stanza.

In the second stanza, Philip Larkin has compared human beings with trees.

“Is that they are born again

And we grow old? No, they die too,

Their yearly trick of looking new

Is written down in rings of grain.”

The poet says that though they are different from each other, the signs of life can be found again and again on trees but with the passage of time human beings grow old to die. Soon the poet realizes the truth that the trees also die. The trees grow old too in due time. But owing to the fresh new leaves which they carry every year in spring season they always look young and fresh. But if we see the rings on the trunk of the trees, we come to know about their age and oldness. It becomes clear that the trees also grow old. The poet calls it a ‘trick of looking new’.

Though trees appear anew and fresh every flowering season, there is also ageing indicated by the rings on the trunk. This is called as ‘grain of the wood’. For the poet, youth and renewal is a part and parcel of life; and hence it is perpetual. The poet calls ‘trick of looking new’ in the second stanza.

In the concluding stanza of the poem, Philip Larkin has employed an image of ‘castle’ for the trees.

“Yet still the unresting castles thresh

In full-grown thickness every May.

Last year is dead, they seem to say,

Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.”

The trees do not have rest; they never rest because they shed their leaves every year in winter; and put on new leaves in spring season. The process of renewal is continuous. For the trees every season brings some sort new change and new beginning. May is the month in which the trees are laden with fresh green leaves and flowers. The full-grown trees rustling in the wind reminds the poet of threshing process. The lush green canopy of trees is compared to castles. It is important to note that Philip Larkin has adroitly mentioned the antiquity of trees and castles in the concluding lines.

The poem ends with an optimistic note that the life of trees and man remains fresh forever. It means that life and death are inevitable and inseparable part of living being. The poem ends on the note of: “Begin, afresh, afresh, afresh.”

Stanza Pattern and Rhyme Scheme:

Larkin seldom allows himself exuberant expressions and emotions like the Romantics; and he detested experimentation of the modernists as well. As one of the leading figures of the Movement poetry, he adhered to traditional patterns of metre, rhyme and stanza in his poetry. The rhyme scheme of Larkin’s poem, “The Trees” has ‘a b b a’ rhyme scheme that suits to the poem. The poet has also employed figures of speech like paradox, simile, and personification. His poem “The trees” displays fine blending of precise and plain diction.


In brief, Larkin’s poem, “The Trees’ tries to convey a message of mortality, decay and degeneration along with hope of regeneration, happiness and rebirth of all living beings. Though the poem is a short lyric, it contains philosophy of life. The thriving of the trees clearly symbolizes resilience and surrender to the natural cycle of life. They thrive even when they know that they will have to shed their leaves with the arrival of autumn.

The similar theory is applicable to human life also. Time is eternal; and birth, death and rebirth are inevitable and a perpetual process. Man has to continue his journey of life like the trees with the same sense of surrender and resilience despite knowing the truth that they are destined to die. Philip Larkin’s poem “The Trees’ is tinged with flavour of melancholy and wit.

It is important to note that Philip Larkin was greatly influenced by William Butler Yeats, and Thomas Hardy and he detested high emotion and verbal effusion of Dylan Thomas, the neo-Romantic poet.

 Read it also: Critical Analysis of Round and Round

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