Poetry Sunday: Christmas Trees by Robert Frost

When our kids were little, they looked forward to going to the Christmas tree farm to pick out a tree. I admit that made me a bit uncomfortable even then, but today it just makes me really sad to see a perfectly good tree cut down to serve as a few days' decoration. Yes, I know it is a legitimate business that brings joy to a lot of people. But in a world that is losing its forests and where trees, the lungs of the planet, are becoming scarce in some places, to see a bunch of dead trees waiting at the big box store to be taken home and decorated just seems so wasteful like so much else in our materialistic lives.

That's what I thought of when I read Robert Frost's poem last week. What is the worth of a tree? Must everything finally come to a "trial by market"?

Christmas Trees

by Robert Frost

(A Christmas Circular Letter)

The city had withdrawn into itself
And left at last the country to the country;
When between whirls of snow not come to lie
And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove
A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,
Yet did in country fashion in that there
He sat and waited till he drew us out
A-buttoning coats to ask him who he was.
He proved to be the city come again
To look for something it had left behind
And could not do without and keep its Christmas.
He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;
My woods—the young fir balsams like a place
Where houses all are churches and have spires.
I hadn’t thought of them as Christmas Trees.
I doubt if I was tempted for a moment
To sell them off their feet to go in cars
And leave the slope behind the house all bare,
Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.
I’d hate to have them know it if I was.
Yet more I’d hate to hold my trees except
As others hold theirs or refuse for them,
Beyond the time of profitable growth,
The trial by market everything must come to.
I dallied so much with the thought of selling.
Then whether from mistaken courtesy
And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether
From hope of hearing good of what was mine, I said,
“There aren’t enough to be worth while.”
“I could soon tell how many they would cut,
You let me look them over.”

                                                     “You could look.
But don’t expect I’m going to let you have them.”
Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close
That lop each other of boughs, but not a few
Quite solitary and having equal boughs
All round and round. The latter he nodded “Yes” to,
Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,
With a buyer’s moderation, “That would do.”
I thought so too, but wasn’t there to say so.
We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,
And came down on the north. He said, “A thousand.”

“A thousand Christmas trees!—at what apiece?”

He felt some need of softening that to me:
“A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars.”

Then I was certain I had never meant
To let him have them. Never show surprise!
But thirty dollars seemed so small beside
The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents
(For that was all they figured out apiece),
Three cents so small beside the dollar friends
I should be writing to within the hour
Would pay in cities for good trees like those,
Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools
Could hang enough on to pick off enough.
A thousand Christmas trees I didn’t know I had!
Worth three cents more to give away than sell,
As may be shown by a simple calculation.
Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter.
I can’t help wishing I could send you one,
In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.


  1. It is so profound given the state of tree cover the world over. The whole business of Christmas is artificial in the extreme so why an artificial tree can't be part of it is beyond me. Leave the trees in the ground, I say. Enjoy the holidays, Dorothy, without a real tree!

    1. I have a small 3 ft. tall tabletop tree that I bring out every year and have for many years. It makes me happy and serves the purpose.

  2. We've used artificial trees for many years. Not sure why people so find the need to have a natural tree this year. Not us. This was a new Frost poem to me. Profound.

    1. I think the spirit of the season is more than adequately served by an artificial tree and Nature is honored by the saving of a tree.

  3. We have not had a Christmas tree for years. Just can't justify it. I do buy a wreath for the front door each year and leave it up all year, watch it go from green to brown, and feel it is enough.

    1. However you choose to celebrate the holiday - or not - is enough. The important thing is to be happy with one's choices.

  4. Thanks for posting. I had forgotten about this poem.

    It seems like such a waste to cut down trees for Christmas.


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