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[little tree] by E. E. Cummings

E. E. Cummings’ poem “[little tree]” appears in the poetry collection The Dial, published in 1920. This piece is addressed to a little Christmas tree, freshly plucked from a forest and brought in a speaker’s place. In order to incorporate a sense of warmth and liveliness, Cummings personifies the tree as a little child. It seems as if he is cajoling a child to be fearless as he is there to comfort and love it with all his heart. There is nothing to fear as it is the eve of Christmas, and it will be dressed in sparkling objects, diminishing all the darkness.

  • Read the full text of “[little tree]” here, along with the analysis section.
Analysis of [little tree] by E. E. Cummings


Cummings begins the poem “[little tree]” by addressing the Christmas tree. At first instance, it seems like a flower that was found in a forest. The speaker asks the tree whether it feels sorry to come this long away from its mother (forest). It needs not to worry as he is there to kiss and hug it safe and tight just as its mother would.

There are spangles and other decorating objects to adorn each tiny branch. Its fingers will be decorated with these objects. Therefore there will be no place for darkness or unhappiness in its heart. After the Christmas tree is dressed well, the speaker and his sister would dance and sing “Noel Noel” celebrating Christmas.

Structure & Form

As evident in Cummings’ other poems, the title and the text of “[little tree]” is different from conventional poems. It consists of 7 quatrains or stanzas containing four lines. The poet does not use a single full stop. He only uses a few commas in order to make readers halt and digest the ideas. Each stanza presents a complete idea. Besides, there is also an interconnection between the subject matter of the stanzas. For instance, the first stanza describes the tree and the second one looks back at its past or origin. Apart from that, it is a beautiful lyric poem written from the perspective of a first-person speaker.

Poetic Devices

Cummings uses the following poetic devices in his poem “[little tree]”.

  • Anaphora: This device is used in the first stanza. The first two lines and the following ones begin with similar words such as “little” and “you.”
  • Apostrophe: The first line is an invocation of the spirit of the Christmas tree. Though there is an exclamation mark missing here, it is an example of an apostrophe.
  • Simile: It occurs in “you are more like a flower.” Here, the Christmas tree is compared to a flower.
  • Alliteration: The repetition of similar sounds occurs in the following phrases: “smell so sweetly,” “kiss your cool,” “spangles/ that sleep,” “dark box/ dreaming,” etc.
  • Personification: Cummings personifies the Christmas tree, forest, and spangles in this piece. For instance, he portrays the tree as a child and the forest as its mother.
  • Metaphor: In “every finger shall have its ring,” the poet metaphorically compares the tiny twigs to fingers and the decorating objects to rings.
  • Polysyndeton: There is a repetition of the conjunction “and” in the first two lines of the last stanza. It is an example of polysyndeton.

Line-by-Line Analysis & Explanation

Lines 1-4

little tree

little silent Christmas tree

you are so little

you are more like a flower

In the first stanza of “[little tree],” Cummings associates a sense of rhyming by repeating the terms such as “little,” “tree,” and “you.” Like he uses anaphora in order to emphasize the existence of the tree, he uses repetitions to create internal rhymings. In this way, the beginning sounds rhythmical.

Here, the speaker addresses the tree’s spirit as if it is a little child. It appears to be silent, contrasting with the occasion for which it is brought to the speaker’s house. The reason for its silence is exemplified in the next line, where the speaker says that it is so little and delicate as a flower. Hence, a sense of fear and unpreparedness is there in its mind.

By using a cajoling and warm tone, the speaker tries to make it feel safe and comfortable. Besides, the poet uses visual imagery in order to draw the picture of the little tree in readers’ minds.

Lines 5-8

who found you in the green forest

and were you very sorry to come away?

see          i will comfort you

because you smell so sweetly

In the second stanza, the speaker draws attention to the tree’s origin and how it was transported to his house. He asks who found it in the green forest. Through his rhetorical question, it becomes clear that the tree feels sorry to come away from mother nature. As the speaker is there, it has nothing to worry about. It smells so sweet (use of olfactory imagery) that the poet is definitely going to comfort it.

In the third line, readers can see that Cummings uses a noticeable space after the verb “see.” It is used in place of a comma to make readers halt. This space also reflects the way the speaker communicates with the tree. In the last line, he uses alliteration of the “s” sound in “smell so sweetly.” It is also an example of sibilance, used for inserting a soft, soothing sound.

Lines 9-12

i will kiss your cool bark

and hug you safe and tight

just as your mother would,

only don’t be afraid

In these lines, the speaker tells the tree that he will kiss its cool bark and hug it sage and tight. Readers can find the use of tactile imagery in the phrase “cool bark”. The sensation of kissing the cool bark of the tree is conveyed through this line. Furthermore, he makes it feel at home by giving it love, warmth, safety, and comfort.

There is a sense of underlying pain in the tree’s heart due to the separation from its mother. The speaker does not take it as a mere tree or an object. He sees it as a child who feels sad after being taken away from its mother. So, he tries to make it feel safe and unafraid. If it becomes cheerful, the speaker will be the same.

Lines 13-16

look          the spangles

that sleep all the year in a dark box

dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,

the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,

The fatherly tone of the speaker is evident in these lines. While reading this stanza, it feels like the speaker is trying to counsel a kid to think he is one of its own. In order to do so, he cites examples of some other objects such as the “spangles” that are in a similar condition.

The spangles, used for decorating the Christmas tree and dresses, are kept in a box. When the occasion arrives, people take them out and adorn their dresses using them. Here, Cummings personifies the spangles as children. They sleep throughout the year in a dark box, dreaming of being taken out one day. The spangles eagerly wait for the day when they are allowed to shine. Like them, the balls, chains, and fluffy threads await for the day to come.

Lines 17-20

put up your little arms

and i’ll give them all to you to hold

every finger shall have its ring

and there won’t be a single place dark or unhappy

The speaker tells the tree to put up its little arms to get ready for the day. He mentions the spangles and other objects for decoration to tell the little tree that they are waiting only for it. They can shine only if it wears them. So, their fates are tied. One can kiss the warmth and light if the other one becomes cheerful enough to put them on.

So, the speaker tells it to get ready. Then, he will give them to it to hold. Its tiny fingers (twigs) shall have their rings (decorating objects). In this way, there will not be a place for darkness or unhappiness in the tree’s heart. Wearing this new sparkling attire, its senses will definitely cheer up.

Lines 21-24

then when you’re quite dressed

you’ll stand in the window for everyone to see

and how they’ll stare!

oh but you’ll be very proud

After the Christmas tree is all dressed up, it will stand in the window. Then everyone will see how cheerful and excellently beautiful it looks. It can fill the onlookers’ hearts with happiness and love.

In the next line, Cummings uses a rhetorical exclamation. He imagines how everybody is going to appreciate the little Christmas tree. They will stare as if they have not seen anything like that before.

However, it is not that only those who will stare at it will become happy. The tree will be very proud of itself. In the forest, it could live happily, close to its mother’s heart. But, here, it can share its happiness with others. It will become the main attraction, adorning the speaker’s house.

Lines 25-28

and my little sister and i will take hands

and looking up at our beautiful tree

we’ll dance and sing

“Noel Noel”

In the last stanza of “[little tree],” the speaker describes how he is going to share their happiness with the tree. He and his sister will join hands and look up at the graceful tree. It will fill them with so much glee that they will start singing and dancing.

The last line, “Noel Noel” is a popular expression used to bid others Christmas. It is used in Christmas carols. Through this expression, the speaker implicitly hints at the rebirth of the little tree as a symbol of Christ’s birth.

Previously, it was part of the forest, unnoticed by humans. Now, it is part of humankind, participating in their holy occasion.

Historical Context

E. E. Cummings’ poem “[little tree]” was first published in 1920 in the poetry collection The Dial. Regarded as one of the most important American poets of the 20th century (modern era), Cummings’ works differ from the conventional style. His poems have unique syntax, usage of punctuation, and structure. As evident in other poems, Cummings chiefly deals with the themes of love, nature, human relationship, etc. Readers can find the use of similar themes in “[little tree]”. It is a deeply religious poem addressed to a little Christmas tree.

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