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Robert Frost's "Christmas Trees"

Updated on September 28, 2017
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Robert Frost

Source

Introduction and Text of Poem, "Christmas Trees"

Robert Frost's poem, "Christmas Trees," features two speakers. The poem is essentially a short play (playlet), and Frost employed this form in many of his most famous poems, such a "The Death of the Hired Man," "The Witch of Coos," and "The Fear."

Christmas Trees

(A Christmas Circular Letter)

The city had withdrawn into itself
And left at last the country to the country;
When between whirls of snow not come to lie
And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove
A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,
Yet did in country fashion in that there
He sat and waited till he drew us out
A-buttoning coats to ask him who he was.
He proved to be the city come again
To look for something it had left behind
And could not do without and keep its Christmas.
He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;
My woods—the young fir balsams like a place
Where houses all are churches and have spires.
I hadn’t thought of them as Christmas Trees.
I doubt if I was tempted for a moment
To sell them off their feet to go in cars
And leave the slope behind the house all bare,
Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.
I’d hate to have them know it if I was.
Yet more I’d hate to hold my trees except
As others hold theirs or refuse for them,
Beyond the time of profitable growth,
The trial by market everything must come to.
I dallied so much with the thought of selling.
Then whether from mistaken courtesy
And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether
From hope of hearing good of what was mine, I said,
"There aren’t enough to be worth while."
"I could soon tell how many they would cut,
You let me look them over."

"You could look.
But don’t expect I’m going to let you have them."
Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close
That lop each other of boughs, but not a few
Quite solitary and having equal boughs
All round and round. The latter he nodded "Yes" to,
Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,
With a buyer’s moderation, "That would do."
I thought so too, but wasn’t there to say so.
We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,
And came down on the north. He said, "A thousand."

"A thousand Christmas trees!—at what apiece?"

He felt some need of softening that to me:
"A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars."

Then I was certain I had never meant
To let him have them. Never show surprise!
But thirty dollars seemed so small beside
The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents
(For that was all they figured out apiece),
Three cents so small beside the dollar friends
I should be writing to within the hour
Would pay in cities for good trees like those,
Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools
Could hang enough on to pick off enough.
A thousand Christmas trees I didn’t know I had!
Worth three cents more to give away than sell,
As may be shown by a simple calculation.
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.

Reading of Frost's "Christmas Trees"

Fir Trees With Snow

Source

Commentary

First Movement: "The city had withdrawn into itself"

It is winter just before Christmas and the speaker is getting ready to write his Christmas letters to friends, when a city fellow shows up looking to buy Christmas trees to sell. The country fellow sizes up the city fellow by saying, "there drove / A stranger to our yard, who looked the city."

The speaker can tell just by looking at the man that he is a city dweller. The speaker soon learns why the city man is there. The latter is looking for Christmas trees, "He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees." The speaker then describes his grove of fir trees: "My woods—the young fir balsams like a place / Where houses all are churches and have spires. / I hadn't thought of them as Christmas Trees."

The speaker makes it clear to the reader that that he had no intention of selling them, but he does not make that clear to the city merchant. The speaker does consider the advantage of selling some of them.

Second Movement: "There aren't enough to be worthwhile"

While still appearing to be mulling over the possibility of selling them, the speaker thinks it very unlikely, but he agrees to let the man look over his grove. The speaker admits that he might have been doing this just to get a compliment about his property. So she says to the merchant, leading him on: "There aren't enough to be worth while." The merchant then says he would like to look at them to see what they thinks.

The speaker then replies that it is fine for the man to look at them, "But don't expect I'm going to let you have them." The speaker then describes his tree growth as "some in clumps too close." The ones growing too close make them lopsided and would not make a useful decorative tree. But there were others that stand alone with "equal boughs / All round and round." The man then decides that there are a thousand trees that he would be interested in, and the speaker then wants to know the price.

Third Movement: "A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars"

After hearing the price, "A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars," the speaker lets the reader know that at the point he knew he never meant to sell them. The city merchant then drops out of the dialogue, leaving it a mystery exactly how the speaker said no and what the man's response might have been. The speaker does say what he believed about haggling over price: "Never show surprise!"

The speaker then asserts that such a low price "seemed so small beside / The extent of pasture I should strip." Laying his land bare for three cents a tree did not seem worth the effort. And he knew that the merchant would sell the trees for a dollar each.

Fourth Movement:"In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas"

The speaker then avers that he would be sending his Christmas letter to some of those city friends who would have to pay that dollar for his Christmas trees, and the speaker could not square that with his conscience.

So in his letter the speaker recounts the whole potential business transaction and concludes, "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."

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes

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  • Maya Shedd Temple profile image
    Author

    Linda Sue Grimes 4 months ago from Spring Hill, TN

    Thanks, Rosario! Frost always pleases on one level or another. He can be light-hearted, deep and witty, and entertaining all at once. He is definitely one of the greats! It's no wonder he has always had a large audience.

  • RosarioBVillaluz profile image

    Rosario B Villaluz 5 months ago from Philippines

    good read!