Winter Trees by William Carlos Williams

Winter Trees by William Carlos Williams personifies deciduous trees, the poet watching them lose their leaves and go to sleep. The poet observes as trees gain and lose their leaves, akin to someone getting in and out of clothes. The apparent surrealism that Williams applies to the natural concept is completely at home in the poet’s writing, Williams often turning the mundane into something extraordinary.

Winter Trees by William Carlos Williams

 

Summary of Winter Trees

Winter Trees’ by William Carlos Williams explores the gaining and losing of leaves, watching trees as they enter their yearly slumber.

Williams is fascinated by this process, drawing similarities with the human practice of putting on and taking off clothes. The use of personification throughout the poem gives Winter Trees a friendly and comforting sense. The excitement present in Williams’ writing makes it appear as if he is friends with the trees, happy to watch them grow and change. The poem ends with the trees going to sleep, ready to pass through the winter.

You can read Winter Trees here.

 

Structure

William Carol Williams constructs Winter Trees in 10 lines. These lines are all formed in one stanza. The single stanza could be a reflection of one year in the trees’ lives, Williams tracing their journey. The idea that 10 single lines make up one whole stanza could also be a metaphor for forests. Many individual trees combine into a cohesive whole, Williams admiring their friendliness.

Williams splits the poem into three sentences. The first discusses the gaining and losing of leaves. The second further the description of the setting, focusing on a beautiful moon. Finally, the last sentence of the poem tells of the trees getting ready to start ‘sleeping’, waiting through the ‘cold’ winter.

 

Key Theme in Winter Trees

The central theme that Williams explores in Winter Trees is nature. More specifically, the beauty and support that nature can provide. Williams is invested in the lives of the trees, watching as they grow and change. He is happy to see them, personifying them to give them a friendly atmosphere. Williams seems to be arguing that nature isn’t so different from humans, both engaging in the same practices, just on different scales.

 

Literary Techniques

One technique that Williams uses in constructing Winter Trees is enjambment. Each enjambed line flows quickly on to the next. This accelerated meter helps to build a jovial tone, reflecting in the content of the poem. The free-flowing meter could also be a representation for the passing of time, Williams condensing a year into 10 lines.

The most important technique that Williams uses in the poem is personification. Williams personifies the trees, drawing a connection with human characteristics and practices. This simultaneously demystifies nature, presenting it as similar to humanity, while also giving the trees a friendly characterization. Williams seems happy while watching the trees, enjoying their company as he obverses their changing of outfits.

 

Winter Trees Analysis

Lines 1-3

All the complicated details
(…)
the disattiring are completed!

The first sentence of Winter Trees is designated to detailing the growing and falling of tree leaves. The trees have finished ‘attiring’ and ‘disattirning’, clothing, and taking off their clothes. The naturalism of ‘attiring’, seeming from ‘attire’, demonstrates that the trees treat leaves as their clothes. Williams believes that they simply grow leaves to wear during the summer. During the winter, the direction to which the poem is headed, they shed their leaves, getting ready to sleep.

Williams combines the enjambed lines with an exclamation mark to close this opening line of the poem. Winter Trees flows freely and quickly, stopping only on ‘completed!’. Williams’ exclamation helps to further display the tone of the poem, he is jovial and happy. Being in nature and watching the trees change gives Williams a lot of joy.

 

Lines 4-6

A liquid moon
(…)
the long branches.

The setting is equally blissful, ‘A liquid moon’ providing the backdrop of the poem. The state of being ‘liquid’ is soothing, furthered by the adverb ‘gently’. Williams demonstrates that the natural world is slow, deliberate, and graceful. He shares the beauty of nature with the reader, painting a picture of how different elements can interact with each other. Here, the light of the ‘moon’ balances delicate on the ‘long branches’ of the trees, providing a magnificent sight.

 

Lines 7-10

Thus having prepared their buds
(…)
stand sleeping in the cold.

The introductory ‘Thus’ suggests a certain sense to the poem. Williams is treating his depiction of trees getting dressed and undressed as something totally normal. One of the fantastic things about Williams is how he drags you into his madness, making you a happy co-conspirator.

The trees are personified as ‘wise’, relating to their ancient age. If trees and humans are alike in getting dressed, then why cannot they, too, be ‘wise’? Elders in society are branded as such, Williams giving this same respect to the trees.

The final line of Winter Trees slows the trees ‘sleeping in the cold’. They have shed their leaves and gotten into bed. They ‘stand’, slumbering through winter until it is time to get up again. Just like a human 24 hours of day and night, Williams suggests a whole year is a tree’s day. It rises with spring, collecting its leaves. Then, as winter approaches, it gets ready for bed.

Humans and trees, who would have thought it?

 

Similar Poetry to Winter Trees

Williams’ imagist and surrealist style are fantastic to read. If you haven’t come across him before, The Red Wheelbarrow is a great place to start. Another poem of his that I love is Danse Russe, in which his friendly spirit is further displayed.

A similar poet who thrives off the unconventional is e.e. Cummings. His poem, l(a (A Leaf Falls with Loneliness), touches on nature. Both poets transform something very normal into something interesting and thought-provoking.

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