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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Number 312: Robert Frost "Christmas Trees"

Christmas Trees

A Christmas Circular Letter

The city had withdrawn into itself
And left at last the country to the country;
When between whirls of snow not come to lie
And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove
A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,
Yet did in country fashion in that there
He sat and waited till he drew us out
A-buttoning coats to ask him who he was.
He proved to be the city come again
To look for something it had left behind
And could not do without and keep its Christmas.
He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;
My woods—the young fir balsams like a place
Where houses all are churches and have spires.
I hadn't thought of them as Christmas Trees.
I doubt if I was tempted for a moment
To sell them off their feet to go in cars
And leave the slope behind the house all bare,
Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.
I'd hate to have them know it if I was.
Yet more I'd hate to hold my trees except
As others hold theirs or refuse for them,
Beyond the time of profitable growth,
The trial by market everything must come to.
I dallied so much with the thought of selling.
Then whether from mistaken courtesy
And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether
From hope of hearing good of what was mine,
I said, "There aren't enough to be worth while."

"I could soon tell how many they would cut,
You let me look them over."

"You could look.
But don't expect I'm going to let you have them."
Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close
That lop each other of boughs, but not a few
Quite solitary and having equal boughs
All round and round. The latter he nodded "Yes" to,
Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,
With a buyer's moderation, "That would do."
I thought so too, but wasn't there to say so.
We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,
And came down on the north.

He said, "A thousand."

"A thousand Christmas trees!—at what apiece?"

He felt some need of softening that to me:
"A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars."

Then I was certain I had never meant
To let him have them. Never show surprise!
But thirty dollars seemed so small beside
The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents
(For that was all they figured out apiece),
Three cents so small beside the dollar friends
I should be writing to within the hour
Would pay in cities for good trees like those,
Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools
Could hang enough on to pick off enough.
A thousand Christmas trees I didn't know I had!
Worth three cents more to give away than sell,
As may be shown by a simple calculation.
Too bad I couldn't lay one in a letter.
I can't help wishing I could send you one,
In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.

-- Robert Frost

Hap Notes: Frost writes this poem as a Christmas letter or, at least, for inclusion in some Christmas Cards. He tells the story of someone wanting to buy his fir trees for Christmas trees but he, as usual, is saying much more about trees, life, value and, even Christmas.

First of all, living out in the country as I do, it's easy to relate to the idea of the winter withdrawing the city from the country. The snow and cold do not lend themselves to easy traveling or, for that matter, leaving a warm city home. So when a stranger pulls up, the country residents are surprised to find a city dweller who understands to wait for the residents to come out to them.

What do you think the city dweller is looking for, aside from the trees, that Frost mentions early in the poem "something it had left behind"- is it just the trees?

Were you as shocked as the narrator was when the offer was three cents per tree? Accounting for current inflation, that's still less than a dollar per tree in 2011. Did you think the narrator ever had any intention of selling the trees? Why or why not?

What is Frost telling us about the trees when he describes them as "the young fir balsams like a place /Where houses all are churches and have spires. "

Here's another telling phrase to ponder–"The trial by market everything must come to." Think he's just talking about trees here?

Here is where we have talked about Frost before: (this one will lead you to our other Frost poems covered.)

And now, because it's Saturday- cartoons, music and other miscellanea:

First Pluto's Christmas Tree from 1952, I think:

Here's one of those singing Christmas trees composed of people- this show a bit about the structure as well as the singers:

And this is Suzy Snowflake:

Ever seen these talking Christmas trees? They're sorta spooky. Here's one of them, Douglas Fir:

This was my favorite little cartoon station greeting when I was a kid- it's from CBS with Blechman drawings:

and another CBS Blechman:

Finally, the infamous "cigarettes as gifts" ads. The package was designed by Raymond Loewy no less!:

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