Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Pitch Pines” celebrates all forms of life that exhibit the will and the tenacity to survive even when the odds are stacked against them. Just as the common, yet sturdy, pitch pine has survived all that nature and humankind have hurled at it, so have the people who inhabit the pines’ native ground. The unheralded American ancestor appears through these images. It was from these early generations that America emerged and continues to emerge. The image of the seed-bearing cone is also the image of the seed of America grasped tight in the minds and wombs of colonists and pioneers.

Galvin’s poems in general contain an elaborate and powerful sense of respect for nature, its objects and its forces. Galvin, along with a handful of other contemporary poets, has been an environmentalist since long before it was fashionable to be one. These poets are cut more from the cloth of Aldo Leopold and Henry Beston than from that of Robert Frost. Frost certainly knew nature intimately, but he ultimately rejected its calling. The environmentalist poets, Galvin significant among them, engage as well as respect nature. Natural objects are beheld, not from a distance, but through the intimate closeness of eye and hand, nose and ear. One need not anthropomorphize the natural world in order to make it interesting: Closely observed, all things in nature may be seen to do the unexpected, the wonder-causing, the awe-inspiring.

“Pitch Pines” does not attempt to elevate the common tree above its station; it merely seeks to observe and fix it in its natural place. For the poet, respect for nature arises from the act of recognizing the dignity of the thing, beholding it, and setting it down in words. “Pitch Pines” contains an understated sense of wonder and even something very akin to joy in the illustration of the beaten and threatened marshaling against indifferent nature, uncaring humankind.