The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 506 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The poem follows regular verse form, with one important exception: There is no punctuation. Apollinaire reportedly chose to remove all punctuation at the last minute, when he read the proofs for Alcools right before publication. He later claimed that the rhythm and division of the lines are the only punctuation that is needed. In essence he is correct. “Fir Trees” is a very accessible poem, and the lack of punctuation provides a fluidity of language that enables the transformation of images without sacrificing understanding. In this poem, punctuation would seem redundant. The combination of conventional form and lack of punctuation shows an adherence to traditional poetry while looking forward to the much more modern free verse of Apollinaire’s later poetry.

The essence of the poem is infused by metaphor. Often, however, the poem does not reveal the identity of the metaphor’s source; that is left up to the reader. A metaphor seeks identification between the known and the unusual. If the metaphor were to reveal its source, the poem might contain a line such as: “The very tops of fir trees are peaked bonnets.” “Fir Trees,” however, does not provide the reader with the element on which the metaphor is based; thus the poem simply reads: “Fir trees in peaked bonnets.” A metaphor with an indefinite source allows more freedom in interpretation. It appeals to the individuality of a reader’s perception. The reader may decide for...

(The entire section is 436 words.)