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"The Trees" – How does Larkin memorably portray the thoughts and feelings of the speaker?

In the first stanza, through the portrayal of the growing trees as both cheerful and melancholy, the speaker purposefully reveals the meaninglessness of life. Larkin illustrates the trees as “coming into leaf”. He uses the “leaf” as a symbol of life and conveys a connotation of hope and life. Through this, he establishes an image of freshness, birth, and liveliness. He further strengthens this lively mood as he describes the comforting view of “recent buds [which] relax and spread”. He uses sibilance to effectively provoke the idea of the sound of rustling tree leaves, signifying life and youth. Therefore, the speaker further emphasizes the vivacious image of the bustling trees, and enhances the encouraging, hopeful atmosphere. However, immediately after, the speaker replies in saying that “their greenness is a kind of grief”. Larkin uses the alliteration of “greenness” and “grief” to highlight that such beauty of life is a “grief” because it is transient. Furthermore, he uses the word grief to create a rhyming couplet of “leaf” in the first line and “grief” in the last line of stanza.

This rhyming couplet really contrasts the two distinct examples of positivity and pessimism, further highlighting that the speaker has an idea of equivocation between what he feels about life. In the second stanza, the speaker reiterates that trees that from the outside seem young, in fact, age and eventually must die, demonstrating that the speaker feels and knows of the inevitability of death. He questions the immortality of trees in comparison to the linear lives of humans, as he asks, “is it that they are born again and we grow old?”. Through the use of the phrases “born again” signifying fresh renewal and “grow old” signifying death, the speaker reveals the idea of contrast between youth and age. The speaker deliberately utilizes the punctuation of question mark to reveal his introspective and almost cerebrated tone to show how he is thinking about all the times in his life. Through the word choice “rings of grain”, the speaker implies that despite the new and clean appearance, the trees are growing old inside, the theme of contrast between youth and age.

The reader can also interpret this expression of the poet in a separate way: the speaker is using the trees as a metaphor for humans. As trees outwardly seem lively but inwardly grow old and die, the speaker is almost mocking them compared to humans who try to make the most out of their lives. Through such pessimistic tone, we see that the speaker hints that death is inevitable and because of it lines his melancholy attitude towards life showing that he thinks it is meaningless. In the final stanza, the speaker shows his admiration for the trees that always try to relive and renew themselves, in contrast to his own reluctance to try and relive life. He uses the phrase “yet still”, which implies a change of tone from pessimism to a more positive one.

The speaker compares the trees with “unresting castles”. The speaker uses this metaphor to create an image of masculinity and strength, like their branches were turrets. Additionally, Larkin’s repetition of the onomatopoeia “afresh” further enhances the sound of tree leaves bustling and rustling by the wind, thereby signifying life again. Through this onomatopoeia, the speaker thinks of images of nature and hope, and the imagery Larkin uses is symbolic of the trees’ continuous, unwavering life and renewal.

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