By William Carlos Williams
All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.
Take the first line: “All the complicated details”. He has done something more than merely speak of a tree losing its leaves; dropping leaves entails nothing “complicated”. Yet by calling the process of loss “complicated details” one must stop and think: how does a tree know to prepare for winter? I say “know” because Williams calls such trees “wise”. Only intelligent agents have “wisdom”. Stop and think, what must a tree do to lose its leaves (but only for the winter).
Next he uses the verb “attriring” and the unusual “disattiring”: one knows what he means by “disattiring”, but the unusual verb puts the emphasis upon a deliberate act of costume. The tree does not lose its leaves, it takes them off for winter.
“A liquid moon/moves”: One would not normally call the moon “liquid”. Yet, in speaking of the moon moving between the branches, the word “liquid” has the light from the moon moving over and through the branches. The light now bathes the branches — not merely shining through the branches. The “gentlely” makes the interaction dear, sweet.
By speaking of the winter moon (as opposed to sun), the scene is cold. Williams stands at the base of the tree, looking up at the moon and thinks of spring “prepared their buds”. The tree wisely falls to hibernation (sleeping in the cold).
The poem does two things: First, he merely observes and describes the tree. Second, he think of the wisdom of the tree. In thinking of the wisdom, Williams points toward something beyond the tree (for trees do not have a self-conscious wisdom). Here the moon comes back again: there is a system, something bigger than either a tree or the moon. Then we return to the complicated details.
A great poem is shy. It does not disclose all its beauty on the first glance.