December 23, 2022
Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.
Robert Frost was born in San Francisco in 1874. Frost, an American icon, was one of few poets who achieved celebrity status. As the first poet to read at a Presidential Inauguration, he set many standards for our nation. Focused on country life, he explored themes which include capitalism, man and nature. His poems often feature impressive imagery.
I recently discussed Robert Frost’s poem “Christmas Trees,” and felt that it asks some relevant and insightful questions for us today. I offer this brief analysis for a holiday treat.
The poem opens with the following lines:
“The city had withdrawn into itself
And left at last the country to the country;
When between whirls of snow …
… there drove
A stranger to our yard ….
He proved to be the city come again…”
In other words, the narrator implies that there are some pretty important or recognizable differences between city and country life. However, the stranger waits in the car, as country folk would do. Yet still, the stranger looked like the city somehow, which the narrator repeats a couple of times. The stranger’s appearance begins to alter the landscape itself as he impresses his views upon the narrator. Clearly the poem intends to explore the tension between rural and urban life, but the nature of this tension is not yet fully clear.
When the stranger asks if the narrator will sell his “Christmas trees,” the narrator claims that the thought had never occurred to him. Though he insists that he is not tempted, the narrator doubts whether or not they are worthy of sale. And then he states that everything must come to a “trial by market.” In other words, the narrator claims not to be interested in the commercialism of the city, yet spends much time contemplating the worth of his trees.
So, while city and country have apparent differences, they are united in some complicated form of capitalism or commercialism. Despite his claims of indifference, the narrator says, “I dallied so much with the thought of selling.” Readers begin to question his intentions because the bulk of the poem lists the pros and cons of selling his trees. Furthermore, the final justification for keeping his woods comes down to cost. After hearing the stranger’s proposal of thirty dollars for a thousand trees, the narrator exclaims: “Then I was certain I had never meant/ to let him have them.” In other words, both the stranger from the city and the narrator from the country are united in the inescapable “market value.” As readers, can we really claim that they have different value systems?
The poem concludes with a message about sending trees in the mail, which costs three cents per stamp (the rough value of one tree). The narrator laments:
“Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter.
I can’t help wishing I could send you one,
In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.”
The irony, of course, is that the narrator has sent us trees in the mail. Whether they are Christmas trees, as the stranger supposes, or “young fir balsams like a place/ Where houses all are churches and have spires,” is up to the reader, of course.
Regardless of your perspective (city, country, Christmas, trees, or not), we wish you a season of reflection. Have a safe and happy holiday!
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