Christmas Tree

By John Frederick Nims 1913–1999
This seablue fir that rode the mountain storm   
Is swaddled here in splints of tin to die.   
Sofas around in chubby velvet swarm;   
Onlooking cabinets glitter with flat eye;   
Here lacquer in the branches runs like rain   
And resin of treasure starts from every vein.

Light is a dancer here and cannot rest.   
No tanagers or jays are half so bright
As swarms of fire that deep in fragrance nest   
In jungles of the gilt exotic night
Where melons hang like moonstone. White above   
Rises that perfect star, the sign of love.

On carpets’ fairy turf, in rainbow dark,
Here once the enchanted children laid their heads,   
Reached for the floating moon above the park,   
And all their hopes were simple blues and reds.   
Beneath the electric halo, none could see   
Swords in the ankle of the victim tree.

Each named a patron star: Arthur said green   
For August in the country; and Betty blue
For swinging and the Florida surf; while Jeanne   
Decided gold. One horoscope was true:
The star of Donald low and lava-red—
Enlisted Donald, in Australia dead.

Our lives were bound to sorcery and night.   
Zodiacs crumble on the boughs of rust
For every child is gone. Some burned too bright   
And now lie broken in the bins of dust;
And some, a fortunate few, adventured far   
And found assurance in the perfect star.

John Frederick Nims, “Christmas Tree” from Selected Poems (Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 1982). Used by permission of Bonnie Nims.

Source: Selected Poems (The University of Chicago Press, 1982)

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Poet John Frederick Nims 1913–1999

Subjects Nature, Trees & Flowers

Holidays Christmas

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

 John Frederick Nims


An important translator and previous editor of Poetry magazine, John Frederick Nims (1913—1999) was equally skilled as a poet. Although Nims was born in Michigan, he spent most of his life on the other side of the lake, in Chicago. Generally a classicist in technique, Nims is also well known for his witty epigrams.

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SUBJECT Nature, Trees & Flowers

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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