Skip to 0 minutes and 4 seconds To read a poem is to be taken on an adventure into unknown territory; only on reaching the last line can the reader be sure that the adventure is over. The Scottish poet Don Paterson’s poem “Two Trees”,
Skip to 0 minutes and 19 seconds from his 2009 collection Rain, makes good use of this fact: the last line challenges everything the reader has experienced up to this point.
Skip to 0 minutes and 30 seconds Here’s the poem: One morning, Don Miguel got out of bed
Skip to 0 minutes and 35 seconds with one idea rooted in his head: to graft his orange to his lemon tree. It took him the whole day to work them free, lay open their sides, and lash them tight. For twelve months, from the shame or from the fright they put forth nothing; but one day there appeared two lights in the dark leaves. Over the years the limbs would get themselves so tangled up each bough looked like it gave a double crop, and not one kid in the village didn’t know the magic tree in Miguel’s patio.
Skip to 1 minute and 13 seconds The man who bought the house had had no dream so who can say what dark malicious whim led him to take his axe and split the bole along its fused seam, and then dig two holes. And no, they did not die from solitude; nor did their branches bear a sterile fruit; nor did their unhealed flanks weep every spring for those four yards that lost them everything as each strained on its shackled root to face the other’s empty, intricate embrace. They were trees, and trees don’t weep or ache or shout. And trees are all this poem is about.
Skip to 1 minute and 57 seconds We quickly cotton on to the iambic pentameter rhythm – the traditional rhythm in English poetry for important topics – and the use of rhyming couplets, adding to the formality of the verse.
Skip to 2 minutes and 8 seconds What we’re reading has a traditional feel to it: the story of a Spanish villager – no doubt in the south of Spain, where citrus fruit grow easily – gripped by the obsessive idea of grafting an orange tree to a lemon tree, creating a period of barrenness and then an extraordinary flowering. Then the nameless new owner of the property, apparently offended by this magical double tree, cruelly divides it to produce two trees once more.
Skip to 2 minutes and 35 seconds As experienced poetry readers, we know what is going on: this is clearly allegory, illustrating something about human relationships, cruelty, and loss. But then, as we wait to discover the dire effects of the man’s savage actions, and to work out their allegorical significance,
Skip to 2 minutes and 54 seconds the poem brings us up short: the trees “did not die from solitude; / nor did their branches bear a sterile fruit; / nor did their unhealed flanks weep every spring”. Don’t be silly, it seems to say; “trees don’t weep or ache or shout”. Who said this was an allegory? Poems can be about what they say they are about.
Skip to 3 minutes and 19 seconds The last line overturns our reading: “Trees are all this poem is about”. But do we have to believe it?
Emeritus Professor Derek Attridge on his favourite poem
We asked some of our course team about their favourite poems, and how they connect to them. Here, Professor Derek Attridge talks about going on an adventure with Don Paterson’s poem “Two Trees”, from Paterson’s 2009 collection Rain.
You can read Don Paterson’s poem “Two Trees”, here, on the Poetry Foundation website.
Over to you
Consider the prompting question and let us know what you think in the comments section. We look forward to hearing from you!
What do you think about “Two Trees” - is it really just about trees? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
© Derek Attridge - University of York