‘The Tree’ is short, only twelve lines long, but within these brief lines, Ezra Pound is able to use allusion and metaphor to craft a message about the power of nature and natural images to change one’s perspective on the world.
One of the most important techniques at work in ‘The Tree’ is allusion. An allusion is an expression that’s meant to call something specific to mind without directly stating it. This piece hinges on allusion to specific literary and mythical references. Intertwined in Pound’s short poem is the story of Daphne and Apollo as well as that of Baucis and Philemon. The latter is the lesser-known of the two. It tells of the generosity and kindness of the couple who took in the gods Zeus and Hermes and then educated themselves to their service. As a reward, they are transformed into a linden and oak tree so that they might live together for the rest of time.
The story of Daphne and Apollo is less romantic and more moralistic. As revenge for insulting him and being over prideful, Cupid shoots Apollo with one of his love arrows and then shoots Daphne with one that inspires hatred. Apollo pursues her but in her hatred of him, Daphne flees. As she runs she prays to the gods to help her. They do so by turning her into a laurel tree so that Apollo can’t take her.
Explore The Tree
Summary of The Tree
The poem takes the reader through a series of images related to two stories from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. These bring in a great deal of context to a fairly short and simple composition. The speaker addresses himself as “a tree” and considers how his newly influenced perspective on the world as informed by these stories and the natural spaces around him.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure of The Tree
‘The Tree’ by Ezra Pound is a twelve-line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. The lines do not follow a single rhyme scheme or metrical pattern, although they are fairly similar in length, visually, and metrically. There are also examples of perfect and half-rhyme within the text and at the ends of lines. For example, “old” and “wold” are perfect rhymes at the ends of lines four and five.
Half-rhyme, 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. There are several examples in this piece, for instance, “tree” and “folly” in lines ten and twelve as well as “unseen” and “Daphne” in lines two and three.
Poetic Techniques in The Tree
Pound makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘The Tree’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, metaphor, allusion, and enjambment. The first, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “god” and “grew” in lines four and five as well as “been brought” in line seven.
A metaphor is a comparison between two, unlike things that do not use “like” or “as” is also present in the text. When using this technique a poet is saying that one thing is another thing, they aren’t just similar. In this case, after alluding to stories from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the speaker says that he has been “a tree amid the wood / And many a new thing understood”.
Another important technique commonly used 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, a reader can look to the transitions between lines three and four as well as that between lines six and seven.
Analysis of The Tree
I stood still and was a tree amid the wood,
that grew elm-oak amid the wold.
In the first lines of ‘The Tree’ the speaker begins by uses a metaphor to describe his place in the world and how he interprets it. His lens is informed by the stories taken from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, as referenced in the introduction to this analysis. He was a “tree amid the wood”. In this solid and interconnected position, he was able to see things that others could not. His perception was enhanced and more insightful than a normal human’s would be. He is able to know the “truth of things”.
The next three lines refer to the stories of Apollo and Daphne and Baucis and Philemon. Pound speaks of Daphne, who was transformed into a laurel tree, and the couple who were transformed into two different trees for their service to the gods. The speaker’s place insight includes knowing the truth of these stories and the moral lessons they have to teach.
‘Twas not until the gods had been
That they might do this wonder thing;
In the next four lines of The Tree,’ the speaker goes into details about the latter story, that of Baucis and Philemon. He describes how the gods were “Kindly entreated” for their assistance. This was after they were “brought within” to the “hearth” of the couple’s home. The couple showed them kindness, displayed their own love, and in reward they did this “wonder thing”. They transferred the couple into immortal tree forms so that they might stay intertwined forever.
Nathless I have been a tree amid the wood
And many a new thing understood
That was rank folly to my head before.
In the final three lines of ‘The Tree’ Pound begins with the word “Nathless,” meaning nevertheless. He is transitioning into an example of repetition. In it, he reiterates how sitting in the woods, as a metaphorical tree, has allowed him to tap into a truth about nature and love. These are pieces of information that he didn’t have access to before. With only a few words Pound is able to create a lyrically poignant poem. This piece is a great representative of his early works.