The forest transforms itself in the winter. The hardwood trees drop their leaves and expose their wood skeletons. Whereas, most of the conifers hold on to their needles and provide cover from the blowing snow. If you are lucky enough to walk a forest path in the winter, one that has been lightly covered in new snow, you may see the tracks of all the animals that inhabit that piece of land.
As a way to help celebrate the trees’ persistence during the winter months, we turn our attention to poetry.
“Winter Trees” by William Carlos Williams (1883–1963) is our first poem. Williams is a Pulitzer Prize winner and one of the principal poets in the imagist movement. The poets of the imagist movement sought to eliminate unnecessary words that don’t contribute to the poetic expression of their subject.
“Winter Trees” by William Carlos Williams
All the complicated details of the attiring and the disattiring are completed! A liquid moon moves gently among the long branches. Thus having prepared their buds against a sure winter the wise trees stand sleeping in the cold.
I really enjoy this poem right from the beginning with Williams’ recognition that “All the complicated details/of the attiring and/disattiring are completed”, to the conclusion where he states, “The wise trees/stand sleeping in the cold”.
There is something comforting about wise trees standing in the cold.
“Wild Branches” by Margaret Widdemer (1884-1978) is our next poem.
“Winter Branches” by Margaret Widdemer
When winter-time grows weary, I lift my eyes on high And see the black trees standing, stripped clear against the sky; They stand there very silent, with the cold flushed sky behind, The little twigs flare beautiful and restful and kind; Clear-cut and certain they rise, with summer past, For all that trees can ever learn they know now, at last; Slim and black and wonderful, with all unrest gone by, The stripped tree-boughs comfort me, drawn clear against the sky.
Widdemer’s poem resonates with Williams’ poem. There is a stoic and wise quality placed upon these trees. Widdemer seems to imply if they can withstand the winter months, so can we.
We also can’t leave a celebration of winter trees without a verse from the haiku master Kobayashi Issa.
still I see them how they were... bare winter trees -Issa
In this haiku, Issa reflects back to the summer time; to a time when the trees once had leaves. “Still I see them/how they were”. This could be a melancholic memory of the past or an acknowledgement that these trees will once again retake that form.
The winter is just another part of the seasonal cycle of growth and it provides the rest that is needed for life to continue.
- William Carlos Williams books of poetry include Kora in Hell, Spring and All, Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems, and Paterson. You can read his bio and some of his other poems at Poets.org.
- Margaret Widdemer’s prize winning book, The Old Road to Paradise was published in 1919. You can read “Winter Trees” and other poems at Poets.org.
- A Brief Guide to Imagism: Poets.org
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A lovely post for this time of year! Unfortunately, we’re unlikely to have snow at this time, maybe in February or March, so no following of animal tracks now! The day is overcast and there is a soft drizzle of rain falling, 5-6oC (42-43oF). The Highlands of Scotland may see some snow. Enjoy the holidays, Mark, you and all those you love! 🎄🙋♂️🎄 (I may write via email over the next few days re. Bookshop.org)
Hi Ashley, Those temperatures are almost spring like for us! It was 1 F this morning and we have a good layer of snow today. I hope you also have a great holiday! I keep an eye out for your email. Talk soon!
I love the lines “the wise trees/stand sleeping in the cold” … they could form a poem just by themselves, the way they capture the quietness of the woods, the winter scene. As always, thanks for sharing poems that capture nature around us. Happy snow, woods, and holidays to you.
Hi Dave, I agree! I just started learning about monoku. Or a one line Haiku. I think those lines could pass for that. Thanks for the comment! Happy holidays to you!
Beautiful poems and images, Mark. I especially appreciate Widdemer’s poem and the gentle nudge toward finding the long-winter beauty.
Hi Tracy, I was really happy to find these two poems. I think they fit well together and both seem to appreciate the winter woods. I did have a haiku from Buson about cutting trees in the winter, but I thought that might not fit so well!
Good call on NOT killing the vibe with a haiku about cutting trees! 🙂
Wonderful essay on a highly inspirational subject: winter trees I’ll always be a fan of WCW simply for his “The Red Wheelbarrow.” In his poem “Winter Trees,” his line about “the wise trees stand sleeping in the cold” brings to mind a singular event in my developing a deep love for trees: my first reading of The Lord of the Rings and meeting Tolkien’s Ents I can’t help but think of Treebeard whenever I’m in a forest. Perhaps it’s a bit silly, but being a 13-year-old kid discovering LotR for the first time and reading about Ents and Old Man Willow and Mirkwood and The Old Forest certainly went a long way in fostering my love for the woods. Winter trees are incredibly melancholic for me; I sense sadness and death and a stillness, but perhaps that’s just my overall attitude toward this time of the year. I also like to imagine those barren twigs as kanji symbols against the gray watercolor skies of winter. Finally, Kobayashi Issa’s haiku is beautiful, as always. Masterful. Thanks for this enjoyable essay, Mark, and best wishes to you and yours this holiday season. 🙂
Hi Mike, thanks again for adding so much to the discussion around this post. The winter in general is complex as then trees’ ability to survive this season is amazing. If you think most of the other plants retreat underground, while the trees stand tall, that is amazing! Thanks for sharing and talk soon,