Philip Larkin’s “The Trees”


Our Daily Correspondent


Photo: 4028mdk09, via Wikimedia Commons

It is spring now, and very hard not to feel in clichés. Especially with daffodils everywhere—and very cheap they are, too. “Telephone flowers,” a friend of mine calls them. I buy them by the armful; don’t you?

When I was thirteen, I wrote my first and last piece of fiction. It was about an old woman in a nursing home suffering from dementia and planning her garden through the winter. It was called “Living Time.” Even by thirteen-year-old standards, it was mawkish and I knew it. Because—the silliness of that act of ventriloquism aside—what new is there to say about spring?

Being hard on one’s own young self is not very fair, and it is also an act of cheap egotism; one would never indulge the same lack of generosity toward other children trying to express things, things that feel real and new to them. If these things have passed into cliché, it only means they have been true many times, and that is no sin.

Philip Larkin said, “Deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth.” But then he wrote this.

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old?
No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.