On Killing a Tree by Gieve Patel

It takes much time to kill a tree,
Not a simple jab of the knife
Will do it. It has grown
Slowly consuming the earth,
Rising out of it, feeding
Upon its crust, absorbing
Years of sunlight, air, water,
And out of its leprous hide
Sprouting leaves.

So hack and chop
But this alone wont do it.
Not so much pain will do it.
The bleeding bark will heal
And from close to the ground
Will rise curled green twigs,
Miniature boughsW
hich if unchecked will expand again
To former size.

No,
The root is to be pulled out —
Out of the anchoring earth;
It is to be roped, tied,
And pulled out — snapped out
Or pulled out entirely,
Out from the earth-cave,
And the strength of the tree exposed
The source, white and wet,
The most sensitive, hidden
For years inside the earth.

Then the matter
Of scorching and choking
In sun and air,
Browning, hardening,
Twisting, withering,
And then it is done.

Summary

It is a symbolic poem. It is a vague poem. In this poem the tree is a symbol of evil which is very deep-rooted and can not be wiped off easily. The poet symbolises the evil as a tree. He says that merely cutting a tree will not kill it because it has the ability to sprout again after some time.

He says that a tree can not be killed by a simple jab of knife. It has grown very slowly by feeding itself on the earth. It indicates that evil is also deep rooted in the surroundings and can not be uprooted so easily without changing the environment.

For uprooting the tree, the poet says that we will have to tie the rope to it and then pull it out completely. Then it will come out of the cave and expose its white roots to the sunlight. After that the roots will get dry and the sun and the air will make the roots brown and hard. They will make it twist and wither slowly. Then only the tree will be killed.

Analysis

The tree which symbolises Nature has grown slowly consuming the earth and rising out of its crust. It has grown over a period of time absorbing air, water and sunshine. So, the tree cannot be killed easily. It takes much time to do it. The mere act of hacking and chopping are not sufficient to kill a tree which symbolizes Nature’s soul. The tree overcomes hacking and chopping by branching off small stems with the help of its roots. The bleeding bark will heal and the tree will grow again to former size.

Knowing a tree’s power to come to life man decides to pull out the root itself entirely. The tree has been very kind and useful to man. Man, on the other hand, is not kind to the tree. He is selfish and cruel. His greed made him blind and ungrateful. He tries hard like a butcher to take away the soul of the tree. He makes several cuts in the tree and cuts it down. After cutting the tree down, he further cuts it into several convenient pieces. In spite of these cruel activities which have caused agony to the tree, man is not satisfied.

The tree will rise against man’s onslaught. Small green stems will branch off from the trunk, close to the ground and small branches sprout laughing at man’s ignorance. Those stems and branches soon grow and give the tree life again.

But, man is determined. He does not allow nature a second life. He does not want the tree to live. He is so greedy that he uses the tree wholly for his selfish ends. So he makes a deep cavity on the earth and pull out the trees with its roots which were hidden for years inside the earth. The earth has so far protected the tree strongly and firmly and fed the tree like a mother. But, the cruel man now tries to uproot this safety.

After pulling the tree down, the man further subjects it to various processes of rendering it to be fit for commercial purpose. He further tortures the tree by scorching and chocking it in the sun and air. He also subjects the felled tree to various methods such as browning and hardening. Thus the total killing of the tree is complete. Man is ensured that the tree has no second life and he is happy. And then it is done, says the speaker triumphantly.

The poet describes the cruelty of man in annihilating the tree with irony and detachment. But, the poet’s own sympathy is with the tree. The language of the poem is simple, remarkable and vivid. Every word in the poem has a remarkable evocative power and is accurate and suggestive. Expression such as “bleeding bark” “leprous hide” and “anchoring earth” present memorable visual images. The poem powerfully portrays man’s callousness in killing a tree. It is a telling commentary on one of the major environmental issues that encounters modern man.

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