The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Brendan Galvin’s “Pitch Pines” is a forty-four-line poem divided into nine stanzas of four to six lines each. Each stanza presents a series of images that culminate in the stanza’s final image. In stanza 1, for example, the trees are described as assaulted by winds and other natural forces; they are bent and twisted. In the final line of the stanza, readers see the trees as a jumble, leaning in all different directions. Stanza 4 gathers images of sourness and acidity until the final line states that the pines’ pollen “curdles water.” The cumulative effect is one of harshness, of forces constantly attacking the pitch pines and the pines barely able to withstand the attack.

Although the predominant images in the poem are those of assault and death, the overall impression crafted by Galvin is one of awe and respect. Despite the inhospitable environment and indifferent treatment by nature (storms and fires), the harvesting of forests for human needs, and the pitch pines’ own sometimes thwarted efforts to survive (they pollinate windows and water), they do survive. While other varieties of trees—cedar, birch, elm, beech, and oak—are harvested for specific purposes, the lowly pitch pine stands neglected; it may be knocked down by accident or as a matter of course. Nevertheless, they have developed ways to hold on. The poet is as interested in looking at previous generations of trees as he is in the trees standing in front of him.

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(The entire section is 512 words.)