"The Laburnum Top" is a poem which celebrates the energy and life of nature. The laburnum tree is sitting in the silence of fall, without movement or apparent life. In flies a goldfinch, stirring up life both in and on the tree, as evidenced by the sound of rustling leaves and the scurrying of a lizard. The "engine" has roared to life with all kinds of sounds and life and energy; then the bird leaves and the laburnum falls back into silence and stillness...and the impending dormancy of winter.
A laburnum or "golden chain" tree is a deciduous species with yellow flowers often planted as an ornamental tree. Most parts of the tree and its fruit are poisonous. A laburnum top refers to the top of such a tree, the part with leaves and branches and flowers.
The poem consists of four stanzas written in free verse. In the poem, a third-person narrator describes watching the tree in September, just as a few of its leaves start to turn yellow. The events of the poem take place over a period of a few minutes.
At the beginning of the poem, the tree appears empty and quiet. A female goldfinch then returns to her nest on the tree and the narrator can hear her chicks chirping and see the leaves moving, even when the mother bird is hidden by the leaves. The narrator compares the return of the mother to an engine starting and setting a machine in motion. The mother bird then heads out to the end of a branch and flies off and the tree falls silent again.