You can read this poem, and hear the author reading it, here.
Those of you who have already met my obsession with Tennyson’s In Memoriam won’t be surprised that I point out that ‘The Trees’ is written in the In Mem stanza form—that is to say, 4-line stanzas, each rhyming abba, and each line consisting of 4 iambs. It’s a form which is at once both regularly, quietly rhythmical and also curiously circular to read/hear. There’s the initial rhyme sound, and the regular pulse of the iambs, which move you on towards the seemingly-definitive perfectly-rhymed couplet in the middle; but then you are returned to the initial rhyme sound at the end of line 4. It’s as though, when it chimes again, you’re being reminded of something you hadn’t quite forgotten—returned to somewhere you hadn’t quite managed to get away from.
This sense of coming-and-going-and-coming again makes absolute sense for In Mem, a long, long poem which both describes and enacts the sometimes-circular, iterative process of a grief. So it is, surely, entirely deliberate that Larkin should choose the In Mem stanza to write about the ‘kind of grief’ which spring arouses in him. ln a perfectly-finished Larkin poem like this one, the form works as they say all good corsetry should: it shapes and underpins the whole without ever intruding itself (unless of course when it means to, as in the repetitions of ‘afresh’ in the final line, where the sounds linger and repeat, in contradiction of the sense of the word itself, but in a way which somehow evokes and captures a sense of weary wistfulness. The repetition is also a wonderfully onomatopaeic evocation of the sound of wind in newly-leaved trees; beeches and horse-chestnuts, in my imagination).
As someone who has a fair few glass-half-empty days, I do find it reassuring to know that others can respond to the full-grown glory of May trees by thinking that they only ‘seem to say’ ‘begin again’; that it is only a ‘trick’ that they ‘[look] new’. The fear of mortality which saturates so much of Larkin’s work is here, almost as an aside: ‘No, they die too’. It’s the ‘too’ that does the work. The fear is all the more moving because it is unvoiced. Similarly, the ache of time’s too-rapid passing is evoked so economically: ‘the recent buds relax and spread’ [my italics]. It doesn’t seem a moment since the buds appeared, and now they’re in full leaf… Sometimes it seems that, for Larkin, the whole world is one enormous memento mori …
(While we’re on the subject, every year when I see daffs I think not of Wordsworth but of Herrick. You can read his ‘To Daffodils’ here.)