I’ve recently discovered that it’s National Tree Week from 29th November to 7th December. I’m not usually that keen on things like this which artificially emphasise something, but actually, I think trees are really important (and when I was younger I used to actually hug them, something my toddler is now doing too). And the colours of the trees have been so beautiful this Autumn that they’re good for the soul as well as the planet. The point of Tree Week is that it’s at the start of the winter planting season, and emphasises how much we need trees, as homes for birds and animals, for their ability to absorb carbon dioxide and excrete oxygen, for the things we can make out of their byproducts, and for the fact that they even help create rainfall. And, of course, they’re beautiful.
Ancient woodlands are not only beautiful, they are historical, and sites of established natural habitats. They are often, as the Woodland Trust emphasises, threatened.
Poetry celebrates many of these aspects of the natural world. Kipling’s poem ‘The Way through the Woods’ asks us to think about woods as a historic place, where echoes of the past remain but nature almost obliterates it, keeping its own secrets. A E Housman’s poem about the cherry tree reflects on the passing of time and life as he looks at blossom. And let’s not forget Christmas trees, as ee cummings describes on her poem ‘little tree‘. Finally, there is the magnificent, ancient yew tree of which Wordsworth writes, dwarfing all around them and suggesting a permanency of nature against the temporal humans who see it. Sylvia Plath’s ‘I am Vertical’ (below) shows how trees can even show us more about ourselves.
So in celebration of National Tree Week, and of the beautiful trees which grow in Britain, read a poem about the beauty of trees, hug a tree, scuffle through some fallen leaves, and admire the beauty of an ancient oak. Better still, get involved – find out what local events are running for National Tree Week.
‘I am Vertical’ by Sylvia Plath
…But I would rather be horizontal.
I am not a tree with my root in the soil
Sucking up minerals and motherly love
So that each March I may gleam into leaf,
Nor am I the beauty of a garden bed
Attracting my share of Ahs and spectacularly painted,
Unknowing I must soon unpetal.
Compared with me, a tree is immortal
And a flower-head not tall, but more startling,
And I want the one’s longevity and the other’s daring.
Tonight, in the infinitesimal light of the stars,
The trees and flowers have been strewing their cool odors.
I walk among them, but none of them are noticing.
Sometimes I think that when I am sleeping
I must most perfectly resemble them–
Thoughts gone dim.
It is more natural to me, lying down.
Then the sky and I are in open conversation,
And I shall be useful when I lie down finally:
The the trees may touch me for once, and the flowers have time for me.