Tuesday, June 19, 2012

"Tree At My Window"

I would like to stay with the subject of the wind in the leaves a moment longer by considering a poem by Robert Frost.  Frost visited the image of trees and wind (and their sound) on more than one occasion.  In fact, one of his poems (which appeared here in May of last year) is titled "The Sound of the Trees."  On the same theme, here is another:

          Tree at My Window

Tree at my window, window tree,
My sash is lowered when night comes on;
But let there never be curtain drawn
Between you and me.

Vague dream-head lifted out of the ground,
And thing next most diffuse to cloud,
Not all your light tongues talking aloud
Could be profound.

But, tree, I have seen you taken and tossed,
And if you have seen me when I slept,
You have seen me when I was taken and swept
And all but lost.

That day she put our heads together,
Fate had her imagination about her,
Your head so much concerned with outer,
Mine with inner, weather.

Robert Frost, West-Running Brook (1928).

                                           Norman Clark (1913-1992)
                          "Still Life by a Window with The Listener"

Frost seems to be of two minds about the tree.  Is he wary of the pathetic fallacy?  Of anthropomorphism?  But, then again, Frost is nearly always of two minds about most things.  Just like his friend Edward Thomas.

On the one hand, he suggests that the tree has nothing of importance to say:  "Not all your light tongues talking aloud/Could be profound." Nonetheless, he feels an affinity with the tree (which is "taken and tossed" -- just as Frost is "taken and swept/And all but lost" in his sleep).  Perhaps the tree is, after all, impassive.  But still companionable:  "But let there never be curtain drawn/Between you and me."  One could do worse.

A side-note:  Frost was pleased with his rhymes in the final stanza ("about her"/"with outer").  Of the stanza, he said:  "No matter what I think it means, I'm infatuated with the way the rhymes come off here."  Reginald Cook, Robert Frost: A Living Voice (University of Massachusetts Press 1974), page 125.

                                        Doris Boulton-Maude (1893-1961)
                                          "The Garden Window" (c. 1940)


Fred said...


"Not all your light tongues talking aloud/Could be profound."

Could this mean not all of them, but still some of them, or does it mean none of them?

Stephen Pentz said...

Fred: good point. I had assumed "none of them." But the other reading could work as well. Hmmm. . .

Thanks -- I always appreciate your thoughts.

Fred said...


Frost's poetry frequently leaves me with a question--ambiguity or a sly reversal or a doubt introduced in the last stanza or even the last line.

Bovey Belle said...

Hmmm. This has made me read and re-read it, as well as compare it with the earlier poem you linked to (and which I prefer). In both poems, Frost seems to create a ink between himself and the tree. The 1916 poem gives a physical analogy and this poem a more cerebral one.

The disjointed 3rd line of the first verse irks me, and I have a feeling - which I CANNOT tag to the specific poem - that Edward Thomas also chose to reverse words in the same manner.

Thank you for making my brain cells do some work again!

Bovey Belle said...

I thought I had posted here yesterday. I obviously needed to press publish again.

I think, being a farmer at heart, Frost always felt at one with the countryside and thus able to empathise with - in this case - the trees. In this poem, he seems to have a cerebral - or spiritual - link with the tree. In The Sound of Trees, it is the physical link he highlights.

Not an anthropomorphic connection, to my mind, but more an holistic view, reminiscent of the way the Native Indians view the landscape and its wildlife.

To be picky, the 3rd line of the first stanza is choppy to read, and reminds me of a poem of Edward Thomas's where he did the same thing - but my sleep-deprived brain cannot call to mind WHICH poem!!!

Stephen Pentz said...

Bovey Belle: thank you very much for both of your comments -- and please accept my apologies for not having gotten around to publishing the first one more promptly!

I too prefer "The Sound of the Trees." Your articulation of the difference between the two poems is a good one.

Yes, the third line does seem reminiscent of something that Thomas wrote, and I can't put my finger on it either. I understand your feeling that the line may seem "choppy." However, over time I've grown to like the sound of it.

As always, thank you for visiting, and for your thoughts. And, again, sorry about the delay in posting your comment!

Stephen Pentz said...

Fred: I agree. Even with poems that I have read quite a few times over the years, I sometimes change my mind about Frost's intentions. For instance (one among many): "Neither Out Far Nor In Deep."

Thanks again.