Tom Brady posted a poem called “Good Timber” on Instagram Thursday night. It was written by Douglas Malloch, who was the editor of the Chicago trade paper American Lumberman in the early 1900s, and therefore known as the "Lumberman's poet.” (I would like to take a moment and quote my father, who once posed the question, “If a logger is a lumberjack, is a blogger a blumberjack?”)
“The tree that never had to fight For sun and sky and air and light, But stood out in the open plain And always got its share of rain, Never became a forest king But lived and died a scrubby thing. The man who never had to toil To gain and farm his patch of soil, Who never had to win his share Of sun and sky and light and air, Never became a manly man But lived and died as he began. Good timber does not grow with ease: The stronger wind, the stronger trees; The further sky, the greater length; The more the storm, the more the strength. By sun and cold, by rain and snow, In trees and men good timbers grow. Where thickest lies the forest growth, We find the patriarchs of both. And they hold counsel with the stars Whose broken branches show the scars Of many winds and much of strife. This is the common law of life.” - Douglas Malloch
It turns out (if Wikipedia is to be believed) that Malloch also wrote the Michigan State fight song, “Michigan, My Michigan.” This makes the poet an interesting choice for New England’s quarterback, seeing as Brady went to the University of Michigan, which is not Michigan State, and is, in fact, its enemy. I don’t know if Brady knew this about Malloch when he posted the photo. I don’t even know if Brady posted the poem himself or had anything to do with choosing it.
What I do know is that this post is *extremely* relevant to my interests. I am not only a Patriots fan, I am also a private investigator currently trying to crack the case of what the crocodile in Tom Brady’s cryptic Instagram cartoons mean. And as if that weren’t enough, I majored in poetry in college.
Majoring in poetry is not something I ever thought would be useful as a sportswriter. Or useful at all, if we’re being honest. I’m kind of shocked I even have a job right now. I guess it just goes to show that you never know where your liberal farts education is going to lead you! Because you’re learning how to learn, you know? It’s all about critical thinking.
Life has a funny way of surprising us.
Let’s do this.
“The tree that never had to fight
For sun and sky and air and light,
But stood out in the open plain
And always got its share of rain,
Never became a forest king
But lived and died a scrubby thing.
Malloch’s rich imagery here tells us that a tree standing in an open field (as opposed to a forest) has it easy. This tree is showered with the requisite amount of rain it needs to grow, as well as the correct amount of sun and air it needs to turn oxygen into carbon dioxide, which some of you scientists might refer to as “photosynthesis.” Because it didn’t have to fight as a young sapling to grow strapping and strong, it is therefore small and wimpy.
In contrast, the mighty oak (or pine, I’m not trying to stereotype, here) that grew in the woods had to fight for its share of resources and demand that other plants recognize its greatness. This led that tree to become the King of the Forest, while the Scrubby Thing was a loser its whole life because it didn’t have to struggle.
The Forest King tree is a metaphor for a man. If I were a betting woman, I would put money on that man being Tom Brady.
The man who never had to toil
To gain and farm his patch of soil,
Who never had to win his share
Of sun and sky and light and air,
Never became a manly man
But lived and died as he began.
My favorite thing about this poem is that Malloch (whose name is an anagram for “Call Gas Hoodlum,” as my colleague Ryan Nanni pointed out to me) doesn’t let the tree metaphor speak for itself. Lest there be any confusion as to the message of his verse, he quickly transitions to writing about an actual man. A man who never had to toil in his soil, or win his share of light and air. This man therefore never became a Manly Man, which is an incredible phrase to include in a poem, and which I honestly am not sure we deserve.
These lines could be interpreted to mean that Brady still hasn’t gotten over being drafted in the sixth round, and having everyone doubt him, before going on to become the greatest quarterback of all time. (Save your counter arguments. I’m not interested in them.)
It’s also a rather pointed message to people starting to question Brady’s search for immortality and wondering if maybe, at the age of 40, his reign as Forest King, aka An NFL Player, is coming to an end. Brady thrives on adversity, just as huge trees apparently thrive on a lack of water and sunshine because it makes them fight harder for it.
I am not sure this is horticulturally true, but I am also not a doctor, so I cannot confirm or deny.
(Please excuse this colloquial break I’m taking from my scholarly work of analyzing this ode, but: Who the hell found this poem? And where did they find it? Was it Brady’s social media guy? The same guy who’s been inserting Croc into his bizarre fake newspaper posts? Was it Brady himself? Was it his wife, Gisele? What phrase do you even Google to find this?
I’ve searched “poems about trees,” and “poems about being strong,” and “poems about working hard,” and “poems about manly men,” and none of them returns this as a result in the first few pages. In fact, I even found a website called “The Art of Manliness,” and Malloch’s poem was not included in its list of Top 20 Poems Every Man Should Read.
Good timber does not grow with ease:
The stronger wind, the stronger trees;
The further sky, the greater length;
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow.
Ah yes, we have returned to the tree and once again to Malloch’s belief that the harder the growing circumstances, the taller it will grow. He tells us at the end of the stanza that this is also true of men.
I am not sure I have ever read a poem that is simpler than this one. There is no other point besides HATERS GONNA HATE AND TREES GONNA GROW TALLER BECAUSE OF IT!
Where thickest lies the forest growth,
We find the patriarchs of both.
And they hold counsel with the stars
Whose broken branches show the scars
Of many winds and much of strife.
This is the common law of life.”
Malloch introduces a new set of images here, bringing stars into the equation (although he does mention the sky previously). Now, however, it is night, and the Forest King and the Manly Man have both grown so strong and so tall — despite the scars on their branches and arms — that they’re conferring with the very stars.
These patriarchs are talking to the heavens. They have reached celestial status. They have struggled, they have succeeded, and they have made it to godly heights. And, in Malloch’s view, the ability to overcome odds with hard work is a universal truth. Malloch is clearly not taking systemic injustice into account here, but I am not surprised, given that he was a tree blogger.
This is quite the pump up speech! Coach Taylor should’ve read this to Tim Riggins in Friday Night Lights to get him fired up when he was being a slacker! I feel like I could go kick down a door after analyzing this! I’m as pumped up as I get when I listen to “Bankhead” by T.I.!
If Brady posted this because the Pats lost to the Dolphins, that’s just ... wild. Giving up a game to Jay Cutler was not a labor of Hercules. However, Brady clearly still views himself — regardless of whether this is true or not after winning five Super Bowls — as the underdog. And he is going to keep growing tall and strong and play until his arms fall off because your doubt fuels him. 28-3, my nerds. If that isn’t poetry, I don’t know what is.