John Ashbery

Some Trees by John Ashbury

‘Some Trees’ explores themes that include understanding the world, relationships, and isolation. There is also commentary, however vague, on what it means to be an individual versus part of a collective. The poet references the complexities of communication, as well as life and lives specifically and generally. Ashbury’s poetry is notoriously difficult and multifaceted. There are a number of interpretations that can be drawn from ‘Some Trees,’ and this is just one of them. 


Summary of Some Trees 

‘Some Trees’ by John Ashbury is a complex and emotionally powerful poem through which a speaker tries to understand a romantic relationship.
The poet takes the reader through seemingly disconnected and certainly quite vague images in the five stanzas of the poem. He speaks on trees, connectivity, understanding one’s world, and the paradoxes inherent in trying to do so. The speaker mentions his relationship with another person, even referring to them as “you” at one point. Their relationship is lacking something, an understanding or connection, that he knows should be there. He sees it in the trees. They are surrounded by the ability to come tougher and know one another but also noise and extraneous information. 

You can read the full poem here.


Structure of Some Trees 

‘Some Trees’ by John Ashbury is a five stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These lines follow a rhyme scheme of AABB CCDD, and so on, changing end sounds from stanza to stanza. There are a few moments, such as the end rhymes “noises” and “emerges” where the rhymes are not perfect. These are known as slant or half-rhymes.  These stanzas are all quite short with lines around the same length. While the rhyme scheme is quite steady, the meter is not. There is no single pattern of meter that unites the entire poem. 


Literary Devices in Some Trees

Ashbury makes use of several literary devices in ‘Some Trees’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, caesura, and enjambment. The first of these, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “far” and “From” in lines one and two of the second stanza as well as “merely” and “Means” in lines two and three of the third stanza. 

Caesura occurs when a line is split in half, sometimes with punctuation, sometimes not. The use of punctuation in these moments creates a very intentional pause in the text. A reader should consider how the pause influences the rhythm of one’s reading and how it might precede an important turn or transition in the text. For instance, line one of the first stanza reads: “These are amazing: each”. Another example is line three of the third stanza: “Means something; that soon”. These lines also make use of enjambment. 

Enjambment is 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 transition between lines one, two, and three of stanza one as well as that between lines one, two, and three of stanza two. 


Analysis of Some Trees 

Stanza One 

These are amazing: each 


Arranging by chance

Due to the title of the poem, ‘Some Trees,’ a reader can assume that the word “These” in the first line relates to the “trees”. The speaker, whoever it may be, is admiring the trees, stating very simply that they are “amazing”. The trees are interesting as individuals but they are also a community, the speaker says. They are joined to one another physically and ecologically. This is also an interesting example of personification. The connection to humanity is another interesting element that’s brought up in these first lines. It suggests that these trees are much more than what they seem at first. Ashbury is creating a metaphor that is eventually going to speak on relationships, the self, and life.


Stanza Two

To meet as far this morning 


Are suddenly what the trees try

In the next lines of ‘Some Trees’, the metaphor becomes clearer and more complicated at the same time. He uses enjambment between the last line of stanza one and the first line of stanza two. Here, he speaks about a “meet[ing],” between people rather than trees. It is happening in the morning. These lines suggest that people, perhaps those in a relationship, are separate from the world but are also “agreeing / With it”. They are still always a part of it. The last line of this stanza is enjambed, requiring the reader to move down into the third stanza to find out how it concludes. 


Stanza Three 

To tell us we are: 


We may touch, love, explain.

It starts to become clear in this stanza of ‘Some Tree,’ that there is a connection between the speaker’s relationship with the intended listener and the trees. They are what the trees tell them they are, the speaker suggests. The trees being there, and presumably, the couple being there “Means something”. The next lines mention various experiences, connecting back to the couple. Together they may “touch, love, explain” and learn from one another. When thinking back to the previous lines one might assume that the relationship is not as it should be. There should be more relating to one another than there is at the moment. 


Stanza Four 

And glad not to have invented 


A canvas on which emerges

The speaker adds that they should be glad not to have invented the “comeliness” or beauty of their relationship. They are “surrounded by it”. This relates back to the idea of artificial and real, performance, and spontaneity that was referenced in the first stanza. 

A paradox appears in the third line, “A silence already filled with noises”. This line might be getting at the complexities of life and the necessity of understanding that there is always “noise” in the silence. The last line of this stanza describes a canvas, it leads into the fifth stanza. 


Stanza Five 

A chorus of smiles, a winter morning. 


These accents seem their own defense.

On that canvas, there is a “chorus of smiles, a winter morning”. This is the second time that morning is mentioned. This is the world, one filled with noise, smilies, mornings, silence, and confusion. The “puzzling light” of the world is built into the equation. Life is complex and confusing and that’s how it’s supposed to be. The poet suggests in the last lines of the poem that life is easier to live when one doesn’t try to assign too much specific meaning to it. It is better to exist and accept the world as is. The “accents” mentioned in the last line are likely a part of this. They are a symbol of extraneous information, like a performance. 

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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