The forest transforms itself in the winter. The hardwood trees drop their leaves and expose their wood skeletons, while 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. Perhaps you see the elegant steps of a deer, or the bounding pattern of a snowshoe hare. You might even see the footprints of the elusive fox or the mysterious coyotes. These animals wander in and out of the trees knowing that the trees, the sentinels of the forest, are their companions during these colder months.
To help celebrate the trees’ persistence during the winter months, we turn to the poets.
William Carlos Williams (1883–1963) starts us off with “Winter Trees”. Williams is a Pulitzer Prize winner and one of the principal poets in the imagist movement. These poets sought to eliminate unnecessary words that don’t contribute to their 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 the recognition that “All the complicated details/of the attiring and/disattiring are completed”, to the conclusion “The wise trees/stand sleeping in the cold”. There is something comforting about wise trees standing in the cold.
Another Pulitzer Prize winner Margaret Widdemer (1884-1978) provides us 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 a part of the seasonal cycle of growth and rest that enables 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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