Throughout the lines of this poem, the poet engages with several themes and literary devices that make it interesting to read and analyze. The lines of ‘The Sugar-Plum Tree’ are fairly short, but they do a wonderful job depicting how powerful a child’s imagination can be. Readers should walk away from this piece feeling uplifted and with their imagination working overtime.
Explore The Sugar-Plum Tree
‘The Sugar-Plum Tree’ by Eugene Field is an entertaining children’s poem that describes a dream world.
In the first stanzas of ‘The Sugar-Plum Tree,’ the speaker describes what the world of sleep is like and the amazing tree that children can find there. The tree is filled with amazing, incredibly sweet fruits. These will make “you” happier than ever. The speaker also describes how you can retrieve the fruit and a chocolate cat and gingerbread dog. The poem concludes with the speaker describing trying to get their child to go to sleep.
Field engages with themes of childhood and sleeps in ‘The Sugar-Plum Tree.’ The poem describes a dream world that should be appealing to any young reader or listener. It’s a place where anything is possible and where specifically, a sleeper can find a sugar-plum tree and eat from its branches. The speaker uses images that should appeal to young readers, like those of candy and other sweets and magical-seeming characters. These tap into the joys of childhood and how fertile a child’s imagination can be.
Structure and Form
‘The Sugar-Plum Tree’ by Eugene Field is a four-stanza poem that is separated into sets of eight lines, known as octaves. These octaves follow a structured rhyme scheme of ABABCDCD, changing and sounds from stanza to stanza. This simple and direct rhyme scheme is perfect for the content. The poem is aimed at young readers. Therefore, the more rhymes, the better. There are also internal rhymes or words that rhyme within the lines rather than at the ends of lines.
Throughout ‘The Sugar-Plum Tree,’ Field makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Imagery: occurs when the poet uses especially poignant descriptions that appeal to the reader’s senses.
- Alliteration: can be seen when the poet uses the same consonant sound at the beginning of words. For example, “tree” and “time” in line one of stanza two and “cat” and “cavorting” in live five of stanza three.
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines there and four of the first stanza and lines two and three of the second stanza.
- Caesura: occurs when the poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line. For example, “When you’ve got to the tree, you would have a hard time” from stanza two and “And the sugar-plums tumble, of course, to the ground” from stanza three.
Have you ever heard of the Sugar-Plum Tree?
‘Tis a marvel of great renown!
It blooms on the shore of the Lollypop sea
In the garden of Shut-Eye Town;
The fruit that it bears is so wondrously sweet
(As those who have tasted it say)
That good little children have only to eat
Of that fruit to be happy next day.
In the first lines of ‘The Sugar-Plum Tree,’ the speaker begins by asking the reader a question. He wants to know if “you” have ever heard of the “Sugar-Plum Tree.” It’s clear from the beginning that this tree and the other fantastical elements around it are going to be central to the poem. It’s of “great renown,” meaning that a lot of people know about it and celebrate its greatness. Furthermore, it blooms in a fantasy world and bears “wondrously sweet” fruit. It’s so sweet, in fact, that anyone who eats it is happy the next day.
In these lines, as in the next, the poet uses imaginary places and objects to create an interesting and strange fantasy world. It should appeal to young readers. It should also be noted that the poet uses “Shut-Eye Town” as the location for the gardens. This should signal to the reader that he imagines this place like a dreamland.
When you’ve got to the tree, you would have a hard time
To capture the fruit which I sing;
The tree is so tall that no person could climb
To the boughs where the sugar-plums swing!
But up in that tree sits a chocolate cat,
And a gingerbread dog prowls below –
And this is the way you contrive to get at
Those sugar-plums tempting you so:
In the next stanza, the poet’s speaking brings in more images. This helps define what this world is like and what one might see there. The tree is incredibly tall and hard to climb. There’s a “gingerbread dog…below,” making it even harder to get to the “sugar-plums” above.
You say but the word to that gingerbread dog
And he barks with such terrible zest
That the chocolate cat is at once all agog,
As her swelling proportions attest.
And the chocolate cat goes cavorting around
From this leafy limb unto that,
And the sugar-plums tumble, of course, to the ground –
Hurrah for that chocolate cat!
The dog, if you ask, will bark at the chocolate cat and scare it off. Things work that way perfectly, and then the “sugar-plus tumble, of course, to the ground.” It’s a simple process, the speaker alludes, that allows a child to gain access to the “fruit” that they want. In these lines, readers should also note the use of alliteration and perfect rhymes. This helps develop an even and appealing rhythm.
There are marshmallows, gumdrops, and peppermint canes,
With stripings of scarlet or gold,
And you carry away of the treasure that rains,
As much as your apron can hold!
So come, little child, cuddle closer to me
In your dainty white nightcap and gown,
And I’ll rock you away to that Sugar-Plum Tree
In the garden of Shut-Eye Town.
In the fourth stanza, the speaker describes the various things that a child might retrieve from the dream tree. “You,” the dreaming child who is enjoying this fantasy world, carries off “as much as your apron can hold.” This is an incredibly exciting event that anyone would be thrilled by.
The final lines of the poem are different from those which preceded them. Here, the speaker takes the reader out of the story and into the real world, where they, a parent or guardian, are rocking their child to sleep. They’re using this story to encourage their “little child” to go to bed and see “the garden of Shut-Eye Town.”
The tone is both peaceful and exciting. It should soothe a child towards sleep, while at the same time engage their imagination and make them excited to see what their dreams are going to bring.
The speaker is a parent or guardian of a child. They want the child to go to sleep and are using this poem as a way to encourage them to do so. It’s unclear if it’s a man or a woman.
The meaning is that sometimes the dream world can supply adventures and interests that are more appealing than the real world. Children who engage with this poem should be using their imagination similarly.
Field wrote this poem as a children’s poem, one that might, if read by a parent, help their child go to sleep. It’s supposed to make sleep and dreaming more interesting and appealing.
Readers who enjoyed ‘The Sugar-Plum Tree’ by Eugene Field should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘If I Were King’ by A.A. Milne – a highly entertaining poem. It contains the fantastical thoughts of a young boy who wants to be king.
- ‘The Race to Get to Sleep‘ by Brian Patten – a simple poem written to inspire children to get to bed quickly and with increased enthusiasm.
- ‘On the Ning Nang Nong’ by Spike Milligan – speaks, through nonsense language, on a make-believe world made primarily of noises.