Here we share some of people’s favourite poems that have been inspired by trees, both in comfort and in sorrow.
We invite you to share your own poems on a woody theme, both those you have written and those that give you pleasure. Perhaps you could record yourself performing a poem and share the recording with others joining in the Festival..?
Please use the ‘Comments’ box below to share the poems with others. Thank you.
‘The Trees’ by Mary Oliver
Heaven knows how many
trees I climbed when my body
was still in the climbing way, how
many afternoons, especially
windy ones, I sat
perched on a limb that
rose and fell with every invisible blow. Each tree was
a green ship in the wind-waves, every
branch a mast, every leafy height
a happiness that came without my even trying. I was that alive
and limber. Now I walk under them—cool, beloved: the household
of such tall, kind sisters.
‘Trees at Durweston in winter’ by Julian Nangle
frozen in shock
they stand erect –
by winter’s assault
they freeze; ice-licked
they stare at the sky,
twigs from the air, are
lost, grief struck
‘Woods’ by Wendell Berry
I part the out thrusting branches
and come in beneath
the blessed and the blessing trees.
Though I am silent
there is singing around me.
Though I am dark
there is vision around me.
Though I am heavy
there is flight around me.
‘The Trees’ by Philip Larkin
The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
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 new
Is written down in rings of grain.
Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.
‘There was an old man in a tree’ by Edward Lear
There was an old man in a tree,
Whose whiskers were lovely to see:
But the birds of the air, pluck’d them perfectly bare,
To make themselves nests in that tree.
‘Poplar Memory’ by Patrick Kavanagh
I walked under the autumned poplars that my father planted
On a day in April when I was a child
Running beside the heap of suckers
From which he picked the straightest, most promising.
My father dreamt forests, he is dead –
And there are poplar forests in the waste-places
And on the banks of drains.
When I look up
I see my father
Peering through the branched sky.
‘Under Trees’ by Geoffrey Grigson
Yellow tunnels under trees, long avenues Long as the whole of time A single aimless man Carries a black garden broom. He is too far to hear him Wading through the leaves, down autumn Tunnels, under yellow leaves, long avenues.
‘Hawthorn’ by Andrew Motion
In memory of Private James Crozier
executed in Picardie, 27 February 1916
There is no question of day breaking
suddenly—one minute slow darkness,
the next sunlight like a blind drawn up.
There is seepage. A thing not happening
because it happens too gradually to show.
Although in either case what is revealed
remains the same: a tipped-up half-acre
confined by fence posts and barbed wire;
the brown weight of a recent cloudburst
smearing down grass at the steepest angle;
one clump of last year’s unraveling clover;
a skyline of trees like exclamation marks;
and staggering at dead centre a hawthorn
managing to hold its ground but barely.
The hawthorn has been cringing forward
like a seriously shy child who never meant
to be the subject of this or any photograph.
A child who in the space of a few yards grew
into an adult and lost control—boiled-up hair,
flapping rags of a trench coat, damp muttering
How did I get here, who am I, why am I here
alone, but still beautiful as battalions of cloud
parade overhead in their dull grey uniforms,
keeping the allowance of light to a minimum
which is enough nevertheless to show sharp
spikes of frost prickling the hawthorn’s hands
clasped to its face even when a breeze arrives
and seeks to loosen them, fails, and sweeps on.
Except no one can ever find this beautiful now,
things being as they are, not that the hawthorn
would yet have stepped on its delicate tiptoes
out from the hedge and down the wintry grass
when dawn broke on the 27th February 1916,
not that its icy spikes and stiff gesticulations
would have appeared to Private James Crozier
as the last evidence of Picardie and the world,
the hawthorn and beauty impossible to consider
would only have come to pass in the aftermath,
when parent trees on the skyline took a chance
and ushered or let creep forward one of their own
to stall and dither and dishevel out in the open,
to fall and die here in due course still unregarded.