Poems about Trees in Winter

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 Tree photo by James Wheeler
Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

“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.

Branches by Eva Elijas
Photo by Eva Elijas on Pexels.com

“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.


Trees in winter by Mikhail Nilov, on Pexels.com
Photo by Mikhail Nilov on Pexels.com

Resources:

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9 thoughts on “Poems about Trees in Winter

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  1. 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)

    1. 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!

  2. 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.

    1. 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!

    1. 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!

  3. 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. 🙂

    1. 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,

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