Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 514

The dominant theme in “Fir Trees” is nature. The poem offers a conception of nature that smacks of folklore or fairy tale in that the natural world is given supernatural powers. The fantasy Apollinaire has created suggests that fir trees, representatives of nature, embody all the various qualities and mysteries of the universe, both natural and supernatural. They have in common with man the joys, sorrows, and pains of experience. Unlike man, however, they are in touch with planes of existence beyond the reach and knowledge of human beings.

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The “humanity” of nature pervades the entire poem. Seeing trees and men as brothers in the world delightfully enriches and expands one’s experience of life. By offering visions of trees saluting their fallen brothers or singing carols, the poem helps expand one’s focus from a narrow preoccupation with the trivialities of the human world to include the broader concerns of nature in general. This expanded vision offers a new perspective to otherwise human-centered priorities. The poem’s personification of the trees also offers a new perspective on the way humans see themselves. The absurdity of envisioning trees as “aged spinsters” or as old men whose bones (branches) creak in the rain adds whimsy to the way one views one’s own aging body and mind.

In one sense, the trees seem to share the concerns of the human world, but in another sense, they belong to a mysterious world beyond human experience. They possess magical powers and “know themselves fated/ To outshine the planets.” Poets throughout the ages have attributed profound knowledge to nature. Nature has been seen to embody a spiritual consciousness of which humankind has little or no awareness. The trees, with their “grave spells” and “trailing robes/ Of astrologers,” have contact with a divine realm that dictates all existence.

In addition to the theme of nature, “Fir Trees,” like many poems in Alcools, seems to celebrate the passing of time. The poem traces the trees through the changing seasons, from youthfully singing carols to sinking “down to slumber,” boughs creaking of old age. The tone of this celebration seems ambivalent. Seeing the trees as “aged spinsters” suggests a melancholy attitude toward the fleeing years. Passing time means little, however, to beings that will “outshine the planets.” That suggests a mood of exaltation as the trees live out their corporeal years to take their rightful place in the eternal sphere, “subtly changed into stars.”

Yet one should not forget that the poem is essentially a description of a real place and real trees. “Fir Trees” offers impressions of Germany’s Rhineland seen through the eyes of the twenty-year-old Apollinaire. The poem reveals much about the subjective quality of human perception. Apollinaire seems to project the hopes and fears of his own life upon the natural world, the trees. His suggestion that the trees are “great poets” destined “to outshine the planets” is probably a speculation upon his own purpose and fate as a poet. Apollinaire’s poem of animated trees thus can be seen as a projection of his inner state.

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