Two poems Cut Grass

There is a strong resemblance, both visually and literally, between the two poems ‘Cut Grass’ and ‘The Trees’. The most palpable resemblance is that they are both written by the same poet: Philip Larkin. Both the poems portray life towards death. Visually, they both contain three verses, consisting of four lines each. Though they are not exactly the same in every aspect, there are some differentiating characteristics between the two poems. ‘The Trees’, is a small three stanza composition, rhyming ‘ABBACDDC’. The opening line of ‘The Trees’ conveys to us that they have started their yearly cycle of germinating.

‘The trees are coming into leaf’. The last line of the first verse is purposefully early. Philip Larkin uses the word ‘grief’. He intended to use this word to intensify the theme. The noun grief means extreme sadness. ‘ Their greenness is a kind of grief’. In this line, Larkin assigns the tree with the emotion ‘grief’. There is a modification of the popular saying ‘green with envy’, which Larkin uses as ‘greenness is a kind of grief’. Their greenness is a sign that they are reaching the end of their lives, he is in some ways telling us that ‘the writing is on the wall’.

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Therefore, he chooses to use the word ‘ grief’ to show that it is not a blissful future, but short and sad. This shows us what Philip Larkin thought of death. He put this stanza early in the poem to show how brief the cycle is, of birth until death. In the next line of the poem, he seems to be puzzled by their endless rebirth. ‘Is it that they are born again’. Larkin attempts a comprehension of how trees perpetually rejuvenate. However, he is soon to unmask the truth of the matter, ‘their yearly trick of looking new, is written down in rings of grain.

‘ Larkin now understands that they are not reborn every time, it is more like an illusion; their true age is all recorded on the bark of the tree. It can be associated with an aging woman. The woman applies make-up to look young but her wrinkles show her true age. The make-up is like the new leaves, and the wrinkles are representative of the ‘rings of grain’; though the trees are not trying to look young. In the third stanza of the third verse, the cycle is starting all over again and the leaves are beginning to grow, yet again. ‘Last year is dead they seem to say’ ‘Cut Grass’ is a poem with a similar theme, but a wholly different mood.

Larkin has used an ‘ABABCDCDEFEF’ rhyme scheme. The first line of the poem sets the theme and explains the situation of the grass. ‘Cut grass lies frail’. In using the word ‘frail’, Larkin’s use of personification emphasis the state of the feeble grass. The words he uses create a perfect picture in the readers mind. The next line, ‘ Brief is the breath’, is comparable to the second line of ‘The Trees’, ‘Like something almost being said’, an evocative simile, which personifies the trees. Both these lines could be symbolically interpreted as a comment on the relative brevity of life, to the eternity of death.

The third line continues with the words which personify the grass ‘Mown stalks exhale’. Larkin chooses to use the word ‘stalks’ instead of using blades (blades of grass), this is an interesting choice of wording, and there must be a clearer meaning behind it, but I find it quite hard to understand why he used ‘stalks’. The next line has an emphasis on the slow death of the grass. ‘Long, Long the death’ he asserts the emphasis by using the repetition of long. This is the first line of the poem in which Larkin uses the word mirrored in ‘The Trees’ in the third stanza of the third verse, ‘the recent buds relax and spread’.

It is used to describe to the reader how the buds unwrap, the same way that the personification is used in ‘Mown stalks exhale’, unlike in ‘The Trees’ where the word, death, comes up a lot later, despite it being a darker poem. The enjambment between this line and the next line keeps the poem at a smooth pace. The grass dies in the heat of the midday in early June. ‘It dies in the white hours/ of young leafed June’. The second verse has a very strong emphasis on the colour white. ‘With chestnut flowers’, which are white. ‘With hedges snowlike strewn’. Larkin highlights the colour white as much as he highlights the colour green in ‘The Trees’.

‘ Their greenness is a kind of grief’. In ‘The Trees’ the leaves greenness is a sign of death where as in ‘Cut Grass’ their whiteness is a sign of death. In the third verse where Larkin writes, ‘Yet still the unresting castles thresh’, of ‘The Trees’, he uses the same tree, a chestnut tree, a chestnut tree is one of the biggest trees. Larkin may be telling us that even the biggest of life can die. The next verse carries on with the colour white. ‘ White lilac bowed’, this is a beautiful white tree with a very fragrant scent. ‘Lost lanes of Queen Anne’s lace’. Queen Annes Lace is a white flower which grows along the forgotten country lanes.

Larkin is pointing out that the plant is being forgotten because these country lanes are not being used anymore because of their age and everyone has forgotten about them. ‘And that high-builded cloud/ Moving at summers pace’ the cloud is a cumulonimbus it is slow to represent the speed of life. The metaphor ‘Lost lanes of Queen Anne’s lace’ although oddly specific, does not protrude as to stifle flow or ruin the mood. It supplies texture, richness and colour. The arrangement does not come to a gradual or sudden halt, as we may expect from a poem that deals with the theme of ‘death’.

Instead, it ends with movement. This is not the frantic, and repeated revival at the end of ‘The Trees’, ‘Afresh, afresh, afresh’. Rather, it is a slow continuity, which both reassures and relaxes us, as if we too are floating with the ‘high-builded cloud’. Out of the two poems I preferred ‘Cut Grass’, because although it also talked about death, it had a much more blissful description of death. ‘Cut Grass’ was much more humanly influenced although nothing was mentioned about humans. There is no attempt here to savagely expose truth, on the contrary, Larkin wishes us to indulge in his fictitiously sensuous world.

As I stated previously, the poem deals with the same theme as ‘The Trees’, that of ‘death’, but it does so in a much more accepting and passive manner. Whilst ‘The Trees’ seems to be an attempt to dissect, and even refute the concept of death, ‘Cut Grass’ handles the issue so gracefully and softly that we almost forget what Larkin implies, or that it is even Larkin at all. Larkin probably wrote these poems so that he could understand, death, he was probably very mystified and scared of death, because these two were not the only poems he wrote portraying death. Both poems intercept in meaning, but in different ways.