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The Fallen Elm Summary and Critical analysis


“The Fallen Elm” by John Clare is a poignant reflection on the felling of a beloved elm tree. The poem delves into the tree’s history, its significance to the community, and the broader implications of its loss. Clare laments the tree’s demise, using it as a symbol for the broader destruction of nature and the erosion of local traditions and memories.

Critical Analysis

John Clare’s “The Fallen Elm” is a powerful commentary on the changing landscape of rural England during the 19th century. The elm tree, once a steadfast symbol of continuity and tradition, becomes a casualty of progress and changing land practices. Clare’s deep personal connection to the tree is evident throughout the poem, and his lamentation extends beyond the physical loss of the tree to the broader loss of community, history, and connection to the land. The poem serves as a critique of unchecked progress and the often devastating consequences of human intervention in the natural world.


  1. Loss and Nostalgia: Central to the poem is the theme of loss — not just of the elm tree but of a way of life, memories, and a deeper connection to nature.
  2. Man vs. Nature: The felling of the elm tree underscores the often adversarial relationship between humans and nature, with nature frequently bearing the brunt of human actions.
  3. Memory and Tradition: The elm tree stands as a symbol of local traditions, memories, and histories, and its loss represents the erosion of these vital connections.
  4. Critique of Progress: Clare’s lamentation serves as a critique of unchecked progress and development, emphasizing the need for balance and reverence for nature.

Literary Devices

  1. Imagery: Clare’s vivid descriptions, from the “old associations” to the “woodman’s axe,” paint a detailed and evocative picture of the elm’s significance and its untimely demise.
  2. Alliteration: Phrases like “familiar form” and “bitter blast” add a rhythmic quality to the poem.
  3. Personification: Clare gives human attributes to the elm, describing it as “old friend” and attributing emotions and memories to it.
  4. Metaphor: The fallen elm serves as a powerful metaphor for the broader destruction of nature, local traditions, and memories.


The poem follows a consistent rhyme scheme, adding a melodic quality to Clare’s lamentation. The rhyme scheme can be described as “ABAB,” with each stanza adhering to this pattern, providing a harmonious flow to the narrative.

Stanza-by-Stanza Analysis

  1. First Stanza:
    • Clare introduces the elm tree, emphasizing its long-standing presence in the community and its role as a familiar landmark.
  2. Second Stanza:
    • The poet delves into the history of the tree, recounting memories and events associated with it. The mention of “old associations” underscores the tree’s significance in local traditions and histories.
  3. Third Stanza:
    • Clare laments the tree’s demise, describing the moment it was felled. The imagery of the “woodman’s axe” and the “bitter blast” captures the violence and finality of the act.
  4. Fourth Stanza:
    • The poet reflects on the broader implications of the tree’s loss, emphasizing the erosion of memories, traditions, and a deeper connection to the land.
  5. Fifth Stanza:
    • Clare concludes by reiterating the elm’s significance to the community. He speaks of the tree’s role as a protector, sheltering the land from storms and serving as a steadfast symbol of continuity and tradition.

In “The Fallen Elm,” John Clare offers a heartfelt lamentation for a beloved tree, elevating it from a mere part of the landscape to a symbol of local traditions, memories, and the broader challenges facing rural communities. Through his keen observations and lyrical language, Clare not only captures the personal significance of the elm but also critiques the broader societal changes that led to its demise. The poem serves as a powerful reminder of the delicate balance between progress and preservation and the need for reverence and respect in our interactions with the natural world.