In ‘The Littlest Christmas Tree’ Peterson explores themes of religion, the meaning of life, and sacrifice. These themes come together in a Christmastime scene where a young tree is informed of its purpose in life. The poem was written with simple language and allusions that would be easy for a young reader or listener to understand.
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Summary of The Littlest Christmas Tree
The poem uses techniques like personification and allusion to explore the death of Christ and the role of the Christmas tree in remembering him. After the “littlest Christmas tree” is told the story of Christ he stops complaining about his size and lack of purpose. He comes to realize that he has an important role to play after all.
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Structure of The Littlest Christmas Tree
‘The Littlest Christmas Tree’ by Amy Peterson is a fifteen stanza poem that is divided into uneven stanzas. The stanzas all have eight lines except for stanza four which has nine and stanzas six, eleven, fourteen and fifteen which have four. A four-line stanza is known as a quatrain and an eight-line stanza is known as an octet or octave. The lines do not follow a single rhyme scheme but there are several examples of rhyme throughout the text. For example, “along” and “song” in stanza one and “oak” and “cloak” in stanza three.
There are also examples of half-rhyme in ‘The Littlest Christmas Tree’. Also known as slant or partial rhyme, is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line or multiple lines of verse. For example, “whisper” and “wind” in stanza one and “tree” and “story” in stanza four.
Poetic Techniques in The Littlest Christmas Tree
Peterson makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘The Littlest Christmas Tree’. These include, but are not limited to, alliteration, enjambment, imagery, and personification. The latter is one of the most important techniques at work in this poem. It can be seen in the first few lines when the speaker describes the setting and the “family” of Christmas trees that “lived” together. The tree could “whisper / the evergreen song” and he “watched… the birds”.
Imagery refers to the elements of a poem that engage a reader’s senses. Traditionally, the word “image” is related to visual sights, things that a reader can imagine seeing, but the imagery is much more than that. It is something one can sense with their five senses. Imagery is always an important part of a successful poem. For example, the last stanzas appeal to several senses as one is asked to imagine the singing of the Christmas trees every year.
Another common technique in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For example, the transitions between lines two and three of the first stanza and one and two of the second.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. It can be used to increase the rhythm of a specific line, mimic a sound, or create a series of sounds that unify a section of the poem. For example, “baby” and “born” in stanza five and “laid” and “life” in stanza six.
Analysis of The Littlest Christmas Tree
Stanzas One and Two
The littlest Christmas tree
lived in a meadow of green
the maple, the pine, and the oak,
who’s so strong.
In the first stanzas of ‘The Littlest Christmas Tree,’ the speaker begins by introducing the main character of this children’s poem, a small Christmas tree. By making the tree younger and smaller than he’d like to be the poet is appealing to young readers who will be able to see themselves in this position. The tree is personified throughout the story, another common literary technique in children’s poetry.
The first stanza informs the reader that the tree learned to “whisper / the evergreen son / with the slightest of wind”. This is an allusion to the sound that wind makes as it moves through the leaves of a tree.
Peterson’s small Christmas tree was happy but he also looks forward to a time when he’d grow up and be like the “maple, the pin, and the oak”. He wanted to offer a home to the birds.
Stanzas Three and Four
“I hate being little,”
the little tree said,
“A very old story,
from so long ago.”
In the third stanza the tree speakers. He is talking to an older tree who responds in the fourth stanza. The little tree complains about being so young, small, and unable to do a lot of the things that the older trees can do. He wants to “turn red” like the maple and “help the animals / like the mighty old oak”.
In the fourth stanza, the older tree responds and tells the littlest Christmas tree that he has a much more important job and lineage to consider. This is where the poet introduces the religious aspects of this Christmas poem. He asks the tree if he knows about the “mighty king / from the land with no snow”. This is, of course, an allusion to Christ.
Stanzas Five and Six
“A star appeared,
giving great light
and laid down his life
to save all of man.”
The fifth and sixth stanza contains the words of the older tree who is telling the younger about the birth of Christ, the “king of all kings”. These lines are short and there is an example of enjambment to be found between each. This means that they move quickly. The tree’s story is picking up speed, perhaps mimicking the excitement the young tree feels about learning it.
There are also examples of alliteration in these lines as the old tree tells the story of Christ and the crucifixion. Rather than going into precise details, the narrative is abridged and a reader has to connect the dots of this well-known story themselves.
Stanzas Seven and Eight
Little tree thought of the gift
given by him,
This all will be done
in memory of him.”
The little tree thought differently after the story was over. He considered the sacrifice of Christ and was cheered mightily by it. This is evident through the use of an exclamation mark at the end of the seventh stanza and the perfect rhyme of “day” and “play”
The tree celebrates the fact that as a Christmas tree he gets to be a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice.
Stanzas Nine and Ten
“Among a warm fire,
with family and friends,
whose colors leave many
standing in awe.”
The tree speaks of his eventual death with relish. He is happy to know that Jesus will “come down to see / and take [him] to heaven”. The tree might be different from the oak but that doesn’t mean he is without purpose. This allegorical poem starts to come to its conclusion as the tree makes these connections. He has a different purpose that he’s now very excited about.
Stanzas Eleven and Twelve
“The gift that we give
is ourselves, limb for limb,
than to lay down your life
when you wanted to live?
The tree is moved deeply by the thought of Christ’s death and the fact that he went to it willingly. He decides that he wants to do the same. There are examples of alliteration in the twelfth stanza with the words “gift” and “give” and “life and “live”. The tree asks a rhetorical question that is in part aimed at the reader. What gift, he thinks, is more important than one’s own life?
Stanzas Thirteen, Fourteen, and Fifteen
A swelling of pride
came over the tree.
singing of Christmas
and that one holy night.
In the final three stanzas, the poet uses a series of rhetorical questions to express the tree’s pleasure. His new understanding of his role In the world has opened his mind. He wonders over the honor he can bring and how he can act as a symbol.
The poem concludes with a return to the image of the wind moving through the leaves of the trees. This is described as “singing,” something the little tree participates in joyfully.