What Wood Burns the Best? The Firewood Poem

A Poem to Select the Perfect Firewood

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This Firewood Poem was written by the wife of World War I British Hero, Sir Walter Norris Congreve. Lady Celia Congreve probably wrote her "Firewood Poem" around 1922 in a published book entitled Garden of Verse. This particular verse expresses how information in the form of a poem can very beautifully describe things as well as used as a guide for wood to burn.

This poem fetchingly describes the value of certain tree species for their ability to provide or failure to provide heat from seasoned and unseasoned wood. Lady Congreve probably composed the poem using traditional English folktales passed down through the centuries. It is amazing to me how accurately and charmingly the poem captures the properties of firewood. Please read the poem...​

The Firewood Poem

"Beechwood fires are bright and clear
If the logs are kept a year,
Chestnut's only good they say,
If for logs 'tis laid away.
Make a fire of Elder tree,
Death within your house will be;
But ash new or ash old,
Is fit for a queen with crown of gold"

"Birch and fir logs burn too fast
Blaze up bright and do not last,
it is by the Irish said
Hawthorn bakes the sweetest bread.
Elm wood burns like churchyard mould,
E'en the very flames are cold
But ash green or ash brown
Is fit for a queen with golden crown."

Poplar gives a bitter smoke,
Fills your eyes and makes you choke,
Apple wood will scent your room
Pear wood smells like flowers in bloom
Oaken logs, if dry and old
keep away the winter's cold
But ash wet or ash dry
a king shall warm his slippers by."

Lady Congreve's Firewood Explained

Traditional folk legends are quite often expressions of early wisdom acquired over time and passed along by word-of-mouth. Lady Congreve must have taken anecdotes from these to compose this very accurate depiction of the properties of wood and how well different tree species burn.

She especially pens praises for beech, ash, oak and aromatic fruit trees like apple and pear. Wood science and measurements of the heating properties of wood totally support her recommendations.

These tree species have especially good heating and coaling properties. This means that the best trees have a dense cellular wood structure that, when dry, have greater weight than lighter woods. Wood that is dense will also have to ability to produce more heat over a longer period of time with longer-lasting coals

On the other hand, her assessments of chestnut, elder, birch, elm, and poplar are spot on and deserve her bad review. They all have low wood cellular densities that rapidly burn with low heat but few coals. These woods produce a lot of smoke but very little heat.

So, I would say that Lady Celia Congreve's poem is a cleverly written but non-scientific approach to selecting firewood. It is certainly supported by the sound science of wood burning and heating values.