First appearing in the French publication Le Voile de Pourpre (1909), “Fir Trees” was later published in Guillaume Apollinaire’s Alcools (1913) as one of nine short poems that make up the Rhenish suite. The poems were written during his stay on the Rhine in Germany from August, 1901, to August, 1902, as a tutor in the household of Vicomtesse de Milhau. In its original French, “Fir Trees” is composed of six stanzas of five eight-syllable lines, with six-syllable middle lines and a rhyme scheme of aabab.
“Fir Trees” is a purely descriptive poem, focusing on the picturesque appearance of the trees as seen through the changing seasons. Apollinaire essentially creates a fantasy by whimsically toying with a German tradition of attributing benevolent magical powers to trees.
In the first stanza, Apollinaire draws on his visual imagination, seeing the pine trees as wearing “peaked bonnets” and “trailing robes.” These are the firs of spring or summer. The robes, those of “astrologers,” personify the trees as enchanted entities. From the beginning of the poem, they are cloaked in awe-inspiring mystery. Whimsical lines follow in which the trees view the wooden boats on the Rhine as “felled brothers.”
The poem then establishes almost a mythology as the reader learns that young firs are apprentices to their wise “elders,” who instruct them in the magical “seven arts”; seven is a...
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