Law is Poetry. Literally.

Law and Poetry

Innis Claude stated in Power and international relations that law is the poetry and politics the prose of government.

Wallace Stevens Wallace Stevens, American lawyer and poet, said,

One is not a lawyer and a poet the next…

I don’t have a separate mind for legal work and another for writing poetry. I do each with my whole mind.

Edward Eberle, of the Roger Williams University School of Law, and Bernhard Grossfeld of the Universitaet Muenster in Germany, suggest that law and poetry influence each other by reflecting the culture they are in and helping to shape that culture.

But we found an interesting case where the law literally was poetry.

Fisher v. Lowe

Defendant, Karen Lowe, struck and damaged a tree belonging to William Fisher, plaintiff. The trial court decided in favour of Lowe. Fisher subsequently appealed, and the decision reached was:

We thought that we would never see
A suit to compensate a tree.
A suit whose claim in tort is prest
Upon a mangled tree’s behest;
A tree whose battered trunk was prest
Against a Chevy’s crumpled crest;
A tree that faces each new day
With bark and limb in disarray;
A tree that may forever bear
A lasting need for tender care.
Flora lovers though we three,
We must uphold the court’s decree.

The Joke Continues

The ruling was a parody of Joyce Kilmer‘s poem, Trees.

But we weren’t the only ones that this ruling really cool.

The staff at WestLaw continued the trend in their entry:


A wayward Chevy struck a tree
Whose owner sued defendants three.
He sued car’s owner, driver too,
And insurer for what was due
For his oak tree that now may bear
A lasting need for tender care.

The Oakland County Circuit Court,
John N. O’Brien, J., set forth
The judgment that defendants sought
And quickly an appeal was brought.

Court of Appeals, J.H. Gillis, J.,
Gave thought and then had this to say:
1) There is no liability
Since No Fault grants immunity;
2) No jurisdiction can be found
Where process service is unsound;
And thus the judgment, as it’s termed,
Is due to be, and is,


[1] AUTOMOBILES k251.13
Defendant’s Chevy struck a tree
There was no liability;
The No Fault Act comes into play
As owner and the driver say;

Barred by the Act’s immunity,
No suit in tort will aid the tree;
Although the oak’s in disarray,
No court can make defendants pay,
M.C.L.A. § 500.3135.

[2] PROCESS k4
No jurisdiction could be found
Where process service was unsound;
In personam jurisdiction
Was not even legal fiction
Where plaintiff failed to well comply
With rules of court that did apply.
GCR 1963, 105.4.


333 N.W.2d 67 (Mich. App. 1963)

Steven L. Winter. (1992). Review: Death is the Mother of Metaphor. Harvard Law Review 105(3):745-772.

Edward Eberle & Bernhard Grossfeld. (2006). Law and Poetry. Roger Williams University Law Review 11.

2 Comments on "Law is Poetry. Literally."

  1. Haha, strange stuff. One-in-a-million, I think legalese is the farthest thing from poetry you could find. However, it might be close to post-modernism poetry as it’s equally as confusing.

  2. Ted Tjaden has a great post on Slaw today that highlights some other use of judicial humour.

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