Published in CRITICISM AND RESEARCH Dept. of English Vol 6 1983-84
The Wind in the Tree is a one-image poem of four lines, with the rhyming scheme of a quatrain, abba. The theme of the poem is frustration in love. The narrator is presented as confronting the situation with a spirit which may be described as one of stoic resignation: “There is nothing to be done,”.
The technique adopted for rendering the mood of frustration and resignation is by means of an intellectualized image, a conceit. Before we proceed to comment on the image, it will be desirable to reconstruct an outline of the situation which has induced the mood of frustration and helpless resignation in the lover, the narrator-protagonist. He loved the woman, who seemed to be responding to his feelings some time in the past. But when he had to move closer to the heart of the woman, she offered him only disappointment: “She has decided that she no longer loves me.” The whole situation is evoked by this opening line. The poem leaves it to the reader to visualize and reconstruct the whole situational context that may have led to the narrator’s impasse suggested by the the first line just quoted.
That the woman changed her mind towards the lover, is the cause of the emotion of frustration experienced by him. Frustration, therefore is to be viewed as the structural emotion of the poem. The first artistic or the poetical step to express this emotion is to variegate it with floating feelings. The first floating feeling of resignation finds expression in the lover’s helpless response to the frustrations; there is nothing he can do to make the woman alter the decision. He has willy-nilly to accept his fate. The next floating feeling, which fuses with this state of resignation and enables him to accept his defeat, is reminiscences. And it is here, in reminiscence, that the one image, a conceit employed by the poet to deepen the structural emotion, occurs.
The state of mind the narrator is in brings to the surface from the far and forgotten depths of memory of his early childhood, his subjective impressions of a tree: “I long ago/ As a child thought the tree sighed “Do I know/ whether my motion makes the wind that moves me?” In his childhood he had watched a tree swayed by the wind. And when the leaves of the tree rustled and murmured, he thought that the tree was talking to him about its sad doubts in the tree- language.
He has humanized the tree. The sigh of the tree-language is not very different from the lover’s language. The doubt expressed by the tree is actually something closely related to a subject one hears not infrequently experienced by us, by children and even by grown-ups living in close touch with nature. When there is a stir and a rustle in the trees, we also experience the caress of the wind on our skin. Then children and simple folk sometimes argue whether the movement of the leaves in trees is the cause of the gentle breeze. Many argue the other way: the wind causes the motion in the tree. This human knowledge is transformed by Prince into tree- knowledge and tree – experience by a simple process of man’s projection of the feeling onto the tree: humanization of the tree is the result.
It was the child’s subjective impression that made him feel as though the tree was talking to him about its own relation to the wind. The tree does not know for certain whether it is the motion in its boughs that causes the wind which in turn moves its boughs. The question in the tree’s mind is whether its own motion is the cause as well as the effect of the wind. As the function of this image from the far and forgotten memories of childhood is to point to the lover’s situation in the present, we can notice that the wind in the tree is actually a metaphor for the feeling of love in the narrator.
We have to assume by the imaginative logic of the poem, that the narrator is in relation of identity with the tree, and the woman he loves is in relation of identity with the wind, and the wind and the love are identical. This also means that in the consciousness of the narrator, the object of his love and the feeling of love for her are identical. Translated in discursive language, the lover’s uncertainty amounts to this: he does not know whether it was his own feeling of love that aroused a sympathetic response in the woman, who, in turn, moved him to love. It might have been an illusion, but an illusion is no illusion to one under its spell and the duration it lasts. It is seen as an illusion only when the reality breaks upon it as a counter-point.
We have, so far, been elucidating only one movement of the poem, to the total neglect of the counter-pointing movement of the poem: the implicit and the explicit are at bottom held in the state of tension. The wind of the conceit also has an existence quite independent of the tree, though it may manifest itself by giving motion to the tree and the wind and the motion of the tree may be identical as long as the motion lasts. This is a counter-logical movement implicit in the tree’s consciousness, “Do I know ….!”
Likewise, the woman has an objective existence, with her own world of affection, independent of the lover’s existence. The counter-pointing reality breaks upon his subjective consciousness when the woman informs him that she loves him no longer. The narrator is catapulted from a state of identity into a state of alienation and separation. Doubts come thick and fast to his mind. The best he can do is to accept his fate: “There is nothing to be done.”
The rhythm of the verse expresses a tension too –organic with the thematic tension of the logical and counter-logical movements. Prince has bound the lines with the rhyme scheme abba. But we must note that within the scheme adopted, the variations and departures are significant. The first and the fourth lines have an identical rhyme “me-me”. The identical rhyme may be said to express the identity between the lover and the tree. The “me” of the first rhyme refers to the lover and the “me” of the last line to the tree. Again, we must note that the poet employs feminine rhyme in the first and the last line of the poem, “loves me- moves me”; and the feminine rhymes in English verse are associated with humorous verse.
Prince not only cuts across the serious moods of frustration by the counter- logical movement; he also employs humorous rhymes and he makes use of a suggestive device to make it clear that he is being witty and humorous. The feminine rhymes – “loves me- moves me” is not an instance of perfect rhyme. It gives a jolt to the reader’s phonetic expectation. The phrase “loves me” arouses the expectation that we shall get the same stressed vowel in the rhyming phrase of the last line as we get in “love”. But Prince gives us a surprise by giving us a different vowel- “moves me”. This use of off-beat rhyme is a further evidence of the poet’s witty intention.
The poem does not employ a conventional rhythm. Like Ezra Pound, T S Eliot and Dylan Thomas, Prince employs here the four –beat rhythm of the Anglo-Saxon verse. In place of alliteration, he employs a rhyme -scheme which we have just discussed. In the accentual verse, as in Anglo-Saxon poetry, the number of syllables between the heavily stressed syllables is immaterial and a line is marked by caesura in the middle, The paradigm of the poem’s rhythm is set up in the first line:
She has decided/ that she no longer loves me.
The line consists of twelve syllables. The semantic pause and the caesural pause coincide after “decided”. It is possible to scan the line in the conventional manner and say that the first foot is a trochee, the second an iambus, the third the fourth paeon and the fourth the third paeon. But this kind of scansion will not yield any predictable pattern. The only predictable pattern the poem has is the one I have already pointed out i.e. four heavy stresses in each line with a caesura in the middle. The advantage of this rhythm is that it helps the poem to keep close to the semantic rhythm of the actual speech in each line. The semantic or speech rhythm is disrupted in the second and the third line at the terminal ends because of the rhyming scheme adopted by the poet.
Consequently, there is a tension between the semantic rhythm and the verse rhythm. The rhyme scheme adopted by the poet works against the semantic rhythm in the second and the third lines. Consider the second line: “There is nothing to be done, I long ago….” In the first line the verse rhythm and the semantic rhythm coincided and were identical, But the second line terminates with the completion of the verse rhythm while the semantic rhythm remains incomplete: “…I long ago….” The pause forced by the termination of the line becomes longer than it would otherwise be. Such forced pauses at the end of the second and third lines allow more time for the content to sink in the mind of the reader. The disruptive and the discontinuous device of rhyme and the tendency of the verse rhythm to work against the semantic rhythm induce a degree of meditation, however little, in all such verses. The second line has eleven syllables and a caesura after the two heavy stresses.
When we come to the third line we find some difficulty in reading it in conformity with the rhythm set up by the first two lines. But after we have found out way in reading it, we discover that it does have four heavy beats with a caesura after the first two heavy stresses:
As a child I thought the tree sighed ‘Do I know….’
The line has ten syllables. We are thrown back to our own devices in reading the pre-caesural portion of it. The difficulty encountered by the reader in the variation of the rhythmic texture of the line corresponds to the difficulty in grasping the significance of the image of the wind in the tree for the lover’s situation. The third line is a transitional line in thought as well as in rhythmic texture. The transitions having been affected, the fourth line returns to the easier rhythmic texture of the first two lines:
Whether my motion makes the wind that moves me?
The line returns to the eleven syllables used in the second line.
We can say that thought and verse form of the poem are in an organic relation to each other. The image of the tree employed is, broadly speaking, metaphysical and intellectualized. The poem can be looked upon as a paradox of feelings, of wit and frustration, subjectivity and objectively, illusion and reality. This, in fact, is the point of logical and counter-logical movements of the poem
The Wind in the Tree is obviously, a poem in the realistic mode with a slight touch of irony, irony in the sense of employing more than the words explicitly say. There is no conscious myth- making in Prince’s poem but the identity between the narrator and the tree is mythopoeic. Further, the image of the woman, evoked by the poem, tends towards the archetypal and mythical. She has an aura of waywardness and caprice: “She has decided that she no longer loves me.”
The analysis of this brief poem illustrates the textual artistry of Prince found throughout his poetry.
1 Originally printed in POEMS (London: Faber and Faber,1939). It is also reprinted in Faber Book of Modern Verse, ed. Michael Roberts, 3rd edition as revised by Donald Hall (London: Faber and Faber 1970), p. 319.
For ready reference the poem is reproduced here:
She has decided that she no longer loves me
There is nothing to be done. I long ago
As a child thought the tree sighed “Do I know
Whether my motion makes the wind that moves me?”