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Some Trees Poem

Some Trees Poem

"Some Trees" (1956) by John Lawrence Ashbery (1927-2017) is a poem that initially appears simple, with its core subject being elements in nature: trees. His style, which can read as a narrative, is typically self-reflective and fluid. His writing often imitates stream-of-consciousness: words flow onto the page as if directly from the mind. "Some Trees" by Ashbery is an exploration of our complex relationships, the duality of life, and the nature of existence. Trees, in this poem, mean something much deeper than a plant that provides shade—or do they? Ashbery's language leaves it open to interpretation. What do trees represent to you? Keep on reading for an Analysis of the poem.

Some Trees Poem, Ashberry and Obama, StudySmarter

Fig. 1 - John Ashbery, the poet who wrote "Some Trees," received a National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama in 2011.

"Some Trees" at a Glance

Poem"Some Trees"
WriterJohn Ashbery
Published1956
StructureFive stanzas of four lines each
Rhyme schemeAABB CCDD EEFF GGHH IIJJ
Literary devicesEnjambment, metaphor, paradox, personification
ToneReflective
ThemeRelationships, life
MeaningAshbery explores the duality of life, relationships, and existence.

Summary of "Some Trees"

The poem "Some Trees" is told in first-person point of view and begins with the narrator observing how trees are separated, yet still connected with one another. The reader learns that it is morning. By using a reflective tone established through diction, or word choice, the narrator directs attention to the audience and states, "...you and I / Are suddenly what the trees try / To tell us we are." (lines 7-9) This assertion draws the reader into the poem and makes an immediate connection with the audience.

First-person point of view is a narrative perspective using the pronouns "I," "me," and "my." The narrative voice is part of the action and provides their own observations and opinions.

The poem continues and asserts that humans appreciate the beauty the trees provide, but we are happy to not be responsible for their creation. Simultaneously connected and disconnected, humans live alongside trees. The narrator then presents a paradox, stating we find a "silence already filled with noises" (line 15) and shares that it is winter. Here, a metaphor presents winter as a "chorus of smiles" (line 17) that exhibits a restraint in its daily existence. That control, or "reticence", becomes part of the charm and beauty of existence, and a decoration that is a defense from dangers.

A paradox is when seemingly opposite ideas, or a contradictory statement, functions to create a truthful statement.

Metaphor is a direct comparison of two unlike objects not using the words "like," "as", or "than." The comparison reveals a similarity between the ideas or objects. In a metaphor, a concrete object usually represents a more abstract idea, situation, or emotion.

"Some Trees" Full Poem

These are amazing: eachJoining a neighbor, as though speechWere a still performance.Arranging by chance

To meet as far this morningFrom the world as agreeingWith it, you and IAre suddenly what the trees try

To tell us we are:That their merely being thereMeans something; that soonWe may touch, love, explain.

And glad not to have inventedSuch comeliness, we are surrounded:A silence already filled with noises,A canvas on which emerges

A chorus of smiles, a winter morning.Placed in a puzzling light, and moving,Our days put on such reticenceThese accents seem their own defense."

Structure of "Some Trees"

The pseudo-narrative poem "Some Trees" is an examination of life and relationships shrouded in a seemingly simple structure. Ashbery is famous for finding connections between opposing ideas and has noted himself that he creates poetry that is "disjunct" just like "life."1 "Some Trees" is visually composed of 5 stanzas, consisting of four lines each, called quatrains. The lines, neat in structure, all seem to be around the same length, although there is no discernible meter throughout.

A rhyme scheme, which is a pattern of rhyming words at the end of each line, typically denoted by the letters of the alphabet, is present. Using both perfect and near rhyme, Ashbery's rhyme scheme is AABB CCDD EEFF GGHH IIJJ. Although each quatrain stands alone through rhyme and visual arrangement, Ashbery connects the ideas within each stanza using enjambment. This method, both structured and unstructured, mirrors the narrator's assertion at the start of the poem that trees are both individual and connected.

A stanza is a group of lines within a poem grouped together visually on a page of print.

A quatrain is a four-line stanza.

Perfect rhyme is when the stressed vowel sound in words is identical. Near rhyme, also known as imperfect rhyme or slant rhyme, is when the words sound similar, but not exactly.

Enjambment, a French term meaning "a striding-over," occurs when an incomplete idea from one line of verse carries over into another with no punctuation.

Some Trees, A field of trees, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Trees in a field are shown to be both separated and together, like the trees described by the speaker in "Some Trees."

Themes in "Some Trees"

Although many themes can be derived from Ashbery's "Some Trees" these two controlling ideas are central to understanding the complex poem: relationships and life.

The Nature of Relationships

Ashbery uses trees throughout the poem as an extended metaphor for humankind and the complicated relationships we entertain with one another.

An extended metaphor is a metaphor that continues for several lines of verse or for the entirety of the poem.

Like the trees in the first stanza, we remain singular beings, separated from one another through different identities, likes, morals, and beliefs. However, because we all share a common fate, accompany one another throughout life, and are all "neighbors" on this planet, we are also inextricably linked to one another.

The paradoxical idea Ashbery presents—that the trees are arranged "by chance" yet together—speaks to the existence of humankind. Like the trees, where we are figuratively planted at the onset of our lives is by chance. Like the trees, we can't decide where to set our roots; we can't pick our parents. Like the trees, we struggle through life to strive in the atmosphere we find ourselves in, at once joined to others near to us and separated from them.

The trees may leave an impression upon one another and work together to guard against the elements, just as each individual who enters and exits in our lives leaves a lasting and unique mark. But, even the people we meet in life are largely an issue of chance. By observing trees and using them as a symbol for humans, Ashbery makes a poignant assertion: as humans, we must seek order in a world of chaos. And as humans, we must form lasting bonds with one another while striving to live our individual lives happily.

Some Trees, A sign that reads "chaos" and "order", StudySmarterFig. 3 - Humankind and nature both seek order in their chaotic existence.

Life

Through his vague language and convoluted subject matter, Ashbery purposefully involves his readers by inviting them to contemplate the meaning of his poems, and in connection, the meaning of life. Much of Ashbery's writing contains the notion that life is chaos, and as living, sentient beings, we must find order in disorder. This concept of searching for a life purpose is suggested in the following line:

That their merely being thereMeans something; that soonWe may touch, love, explain."

(lines 10-12)

Humans want meaning from life and strive to find meaning in daily things, like the existence of trees and the existence of ourselves. Through experiential learning by "touch" and through "love," we seek to "explain" the meaning of a life that, for Ashbery, is indirect, and confusing. In a wonderful imitation of art mimicking life, "Some Trees" forces the reader to interact with the words on the page and attempt to find meaning, much as we do in life. The audience experiences the words, considers the meaning, mulls it over, and then aligns their thoughts with an opinion. There is no one answer.

Through his experimental writing, Ashbery leaves the meaning of his works open to the reader's interpretation. In the poem, trees can signify trees themselves, symbolize people finding their way through life, or emblematize life experiences. The trees can also be a metaphor to express the complicated relationships we share through life. Ashbery places everything within his poem "in a puzzling light" (line 18).

Analysis of "Some Trees"

To gather meaning from "Some Trees" it is necessary to take a closer look at the poem, stanza-by-stanza.

"Some Trees" Stanza 1

Stanza 1 in "Some Trees" begins, interestingly enough, as though in the middle of a thought, jumping off from the title.

These are amazing: eachJoining a neighbor, as though speechWere a still performance.Arranging by chance"

(lines 1-4)

The first word of the poem, "These" is a pronoun referring to what seems like the title of the poem, "Some Trees." Starting the poem with a pronoun leaves the subject open to interpretation. The speaker does not definitively state it is trees, so the audience must assume. This initial action establishes an expectation for the reader, who must aim to find understanding.

The trees stand as individuals—as "each" in the poem, but they also function together and are made more "amazing" because they are together. Their "still performance" is a mode of communication. Personification makes the trees relatable to the audience, and aligns our experiences in life with what the trees experience. We all seek communication and understanding. The last line of this stanza, "[a]rranging by chance" is an instance of enjambment that serves to link the ideas in this section to the ones in the next. Chance, an entity that is the essence of disorder, has organized these, or some trees.

Personification, or prosopopoeia, is the figurative attribution of human-like qualities to non-human things or ideas. It is used to enhance description and further understanding.

Did you know that anthropomorphism, the literal attribution of human traits to non-human things, is often confused with personification? Examples of anthropomorphic beings from pop culture include Spongebob Squarepants (1999) who is a sponge that has arms and legs and can talk, Brian Griffin, a dog that walks on his hind legs and can talk from the TV series Family Guy (1999), and the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland (1865).

"Some Trees" Stanza 2

The second stanza begins by completing the idea the first stanza introduced.

To meet as far this morningFrom the world as agreeingWith it, you and IAre suddenly what the trees try"

(lines 5-8)

Chance has scheduled a meeting for "this morning" (line 5). The speaker personifies chance by attributing a will to it. Personification places the abilities and will of humankind at the mercy of chance. Then, speaking directly to the reader in apostrophe, the voice of the poem state "you and I" (line 7) "[a]re suddenly what the trees try" (line 8). The apostrophe creates an intimate experience for the reader, making it seem as though the speaker and the audience are engaged in a conversation. The last line of stanza 2 also ends in enjambment, propelling the reader to the next stanza to complete the thought.

An apostrophe is a direct address to an entity, idea, or person that cannot answer.

"Some Trees" Stanza 3

Stanza three is linked to stanza two with ideas. Finishing the idea from the last line in stanza two, lines 9-12 read:

To tell us we are:That their merely being thereMeans something; that soonWe may touch, love, explain."

(lines 9-12)

The completed idea expresses that the trees are an affirmation of human existence. They are trying to communicate that "we are" (line 9), or that they exist. Because something as "amazing" (line 1) as "some trees" actually exist, that brings meaning to life. It is a promise that we "may touch, love, explain" (line 12) and gain some deeper insight or understanding. The use of end punctuation in line 12 to end stanza 3, rather than enjambment, expresses that experiences are an end purpose in life.

How would your paper analyzing literary devices in "Some Trees" reveal another theme?

"Some Trees" Stanza 4

Stanza four begins a new idea and establishes that "we", or humans, are grateful for the existence of trees and their beauty, but we are also "glad not to have invented" or have had the burden to create something so beautiful. Trees are a natural occurrence and surround humans, and with their "silence" they fill the earth with noise. Again using paradox, the speaker shows the silence that trees, or nature, bring to life fills our minds with the noise of our thoughts. Another interpretation is that the emptiness of silence causes discomfort, or a disturbance, construed as noise.

And glad not to have inventedSuch comeliness, we are surrounded:A silence already filled with noises,A canvas on which emerges"

(lines 13-16)

Ashbery uses enjambment again, to link stanza four to the last stanza. What is seen as noises in stanza four, transitions in stanza five to a much more melodious sound.

"Some Trees" Stanza 5

Stanza five provides the reader with some added details about the setting. Instead of merely knowing the setting is during the morning hours, we now also know it is a winter morning. The outdoor silence is slightly different during the winter because there are fewer animals around. Fewer birds chirp in the trees, and a gust of wind has less of an effect when there are no leaves to rustle. A "chorus of smiles" fills the air as stanza 5 begins.

A chorus of smiles, a winter morning.Placed in a puzzling light, and moving,Our days put on such reticenceThese accents seem their own defense."

(lines 17-20)

The deliberate synesthesia, which is the blending of senses to describe, pairs the sense of hearing a "chorus" with vision that sees "smiles" (line 17) shows intensity in action. Purpose is not lost in a sort of "puzzling light", and we still move on. The world continues. Humans are constantly moving, and are moved, to find meaning through experiences, relationships, and daily life.

The Meaning of "Some Trees"

"Some Trees" by John Ashbery is an intensely deep poem that is disguised in simplicity. Like trees themselves that are complicated plants, the poem has many layers and a multitude of meanings. Perhaps what is most interesting about this poem is that it instills in the reader a desire to search for answers. "Some Trees" and Ashbery's writing style pose questions rather than provide answers. The poem is about the experience, and experience is what brings us meaning.2

By his own admission, Ashbery sought to make poetry that was dense, with a sort of "crunch" and "resistance."1 "Some Trees" shows the duality of life—how it is simple and complicated. It reveals that human relationships with each other, and humankind's relationship with nature, are intricate and convoluted. The importance is not the answers, but the experience of life and the journey for answers is what is valuable.

Some Trees Poem - Key takeaways

  • "Some Trees" is a poem written by John Ashbery.
  • Published in 1956, "Some Trees" is structured in five separate four-line stanzas, or quatrains.
  • The poem's rhyme scheme of AABB CCDD EEFF GGHH IIJJ is created with both perfect and near rhyme.
  • "Some Trees" explores the themes of life and relationships.
  • The trees in "Some Trees" are representative of humankind, at one connected and separated from one another.

1. Appleyard, Bryan. "The Major Genius of a Minor Art." Interview with John Ashbery. August 1984.

2. Shepherd, Reginald. "Only in the Light of Lost Words Can We Imagine Our Rewards: Some Trees." Conjunctions. John Ashbery Tribute. 2007.

Frequently Asked Questions about Some Trees Poem

The tone of "Some Trees" is reflective. 

The poem is about experience, and experience is what brings us meaning. "Some Trees" shows the duality of life—how it is simple and complicated.

In the poem, trees can signify trees themselves, symbolize people finding their way through life, or emblematize life experiences. The trees can also be a metaphor to express the complicated relationships we share through life.

Although many themes can be derived from Ashbery's "Some Trees", these two controlling ideas are central to understanding the complex poem: relationships and life.

"Some Trees" is a poem written by John Ashbery and published in 1956.

Final Some Trees Poem Quiz

Question

Who wrote "Some Trees"? 

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Answer

John Lawrence Ashbery wrote the poem "Some Trees." 

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Question

When was "Some Trees" published? 

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Answer

The poem "Some Trees" was published in 1956.

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Question

What is the rhyme scheme in "Some Trees"? 

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Answer

The rhyme, created by both perfect and slant rhyme, is AABB CCDD EEFF GGHH IIJJ.

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Question

What is the structure of the poem "Some Trees"?

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Answer

The poem "Some Trees" consists of five stanzas that are each four lines long. 

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Question

What is the tone of "Some Trees"? 

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Answer

The tone in "Some Trees" is reflective. 

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Question

The phrase "chorus of smiles" in line 17 is an example of 

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Answer

synesthesia

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Question

What is paradox? 

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Answer

A paradox is when two seemingly opposite ideas function together to create a truthful statement.

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Question

In  "Some Trees" line 15 "A silence already filled with noises" is an example of 

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Answer

paradox

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What do the trees signify in the poem "Some Trees"? 

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Answer

The trees signify humankind, life, and the individual experiences. 

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Question

What is the theme in  "Some Trees"? 

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Answer

Two central themes in "Some Trees" is life and relationships.

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