I saw a perfect tree today

I saw a perfect tree today

From my cabin bed on a Via Rail train 

Through the North of Ontario

I saw a perfect tree today

It was tall and thin and scraggly and prim

Then I saw another just as perfect

Short and sturdy with branches and brambles 

And then another with a rugged fat trunk

Older than the rest, but just as perfect


I saw a dozen trees in a clump sharing the light

So their growth was stunted

But regal they were, plumped and perfect

And then a small twisted tree

with leaves fallen, trunk slanted

all the more perfect


I saw tens and hundreds, and thousands

And hundreds of thousands of trees

Not one single tree exactly like another

And yet they were all perfect, all perfect trees


A man-child from Mississauga heading to bend steel

To make his fortunes in the Alberta oil fields;

“I’ve never seen so many trees in my whole life”

A balding dude 30 years a social worker

Retiring home to Winnipeg, calms;

“Where I come from they cut them all down,

long, long, long before I was born.”

And I am reminded—This land, this land

Where cities have sprouted,

Blooming glistening skyscrapers at night

T’was all covered with trees once

One big forest we were once

All perfect trees.

Dive in

2. The word “perfect” is repeated nine times in this poem. What effect does this repetition have? In your opinion, what is the significance of having the word appear this many times?

3. The descriptive words used for trees vary greatly – “thin,” “scraggly,” “prim,” “rugged,” “fat,” “regal,” “plumped,” “twisted,” etc. What does this variation suggest to you? Were any of the words surprising to you, when describing a tree?

3. Do you think she is describing something more than or other than trees?

4. In the final lines, the poet writes: “One big forest we were once / All perfect trees.” Why does she use the word “we” here?

5. If you were reciting this poem, where would you speed up? Where would you slow down? Do you read the rhythm of the poem as being akin to the rhythm of a train?

Writing exercise

Write a poem that plays with repetition in the way the title is repeated in “I saw a perfect tree today,” as well as the word “perfect.” Try to make the word new somehow with each occurrence.

Useful links




Dive In written by
Bibliographical info

Copyright © Lillian Allen. Originally published in Heartwood: Poems for the Love of Trees (League of Canadian Poets, 2018).

Start here: