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This poem paints a vivid and brutal picture of what is involved in killing a tree, but I think there can be a deeper meaning as well. The poet uses strong images to show that it takes quite a bit of doing to kill a tree. It is not enough to merely hack it with an ax. One must pull it up by the roots too eliminate it. Only then will it die in the “scorching and choking sun and air.” A full-grown tree has taken a long time to get to its present state. It has been fed by the earth for years, absorbing “sunlight, air, water” and if one merely “hacks and chops” off the branches, it will grow back. No. What needs to be done is to pull it out by the roots, separate it from its source of nourishment, the earth. How to do that? Tie a rope around it, pull it out completely, expose its strength (the roots), and let the “strength” dry up and die.
There are all sorts of things that this could be compared to, I think. For one thing, in Christian theology, there are many references to “the vine and the branches”. Christians believe that Jesus is the vine, and his people are the branches. When the branches are disconnected from the vine, they die. They do not have enough strength on their own to survive. In Native American beliefs, when the people are removed from their land, they cannot live. The land nourishes them and is their “root”.
Or, what if we are talking about a human being? Let’s say the “root” is love. What would happen to us if love were removed from our lives? What if it were a love that had been growing for a long time? A few little “stabs or hacks” would not destroy that love, something drastic would have to be done, perhaps betrayal, and then the love would die because the trust, which is the root of the love, would be exposed, pulled out from its source.
Get my drift? Now, what do YOU think?
As for meter and rhyme scheme, this poem is written in free verse.
In the poem, “On Killing a Tree, the poet, Gieve Patel apparently suggests how to completely kill a tree. This suggestion of killing the tree is quite ironical in sense. The tone is also very bitter. The tree in the poem, is in fact, being portrayed and presented as an enemy to mankind.
The poem has four stanzas. In the first two stanzas, the poet gives a description of the tree and shows its strength, and power. In the last two stanzas, the poet gives step-by step instructions, almost in a sequential process how to completely kill the tree. Let’s analyze this poem, stanza by stanza.
In the opening lines, the poet makes a mockery of those who cut down trees.. In a mocking tone, the poet says that it takes much time to kill a tree and a simple blow of knife will not kill it. According to the poet, killing a tree is not a simple task. In the lines that follow, the tree is portrayed as a child of the mother Earth. The lines evoke the image of the baby having been fed and brought up by her mother. As a child grows up strong on her mother milk, so the tree has grown and become powerful over the years by consuming/ eating up nutrient from the mother earth. This tree has not only been fed, nurtured and cradled by the Earth alone but it has also been nourished and taken care by the other holy elements of nature such as sun, air and water. So apart from the mother earth, sun, air and water are also the guardian angels of the tree. Hence, it is not an easy task to kill the tree and therefore, it cannot be killed by a simple jab of the knife.
Again, if you look at the tree, it looks very much sick. The discoloured bark of the tree gives an impression that the tree has been suffering from some leprosy kind of disease. But this is a wrong impression. The tree is not sick. The hide of the tree which looks sick and afflicted with leprosy is very much healthy and the proof of which lies in the fact that it has sprouted green leaves and twigs, and flowers and fruits.
Now a simple jab of the knife cannot kill the tree. What if we use continuous jabbing of the blade? About this he says in the next stanza that the repeated and heavy blows of hacking and chopping will also fail to kill the tree. Yes! the repeated blows of hacking and chopping will make the tree bleed. It will no doubt cause the tree much pain but these repeated and heavy blows of knife will prove inadequate measures to kill it. This tree like Nature is resilient and the bleeding bark will heal itself. From the ground below, curled green twigs will rise again. Miniature boughs if not stopped and checked will grow up into a full grown tree of previous /former size.
The tree cannot be killed by a single jab of the knife; nor can it be killed by repeated blows of hacking and chopping. Again, pain and bleeding will also fail to kill the tree. All these violent steps of jabbing, hacking and chopping are inadequate measures to kill a tree, so what should be done? What is the way out? How can the enemy be killed?
Let the tree be uprooted. The tree is to be pulled out. It is the root that is giving the tree strength and power, we should use all means necessary to pull out the root and destroy it. It is to be roped, tied, and snapped out with a sudden jerk out of the anchoring earth. The tree is to be pulled out entirely along with it root which has been a source of strength to the tree.
The uprooted tree then be left in open to scorch and choke in sun and air. The tree will pale, stiffen, dry up and will meet its death inch by inch. the enemy is dead. The mission now stands accomplished. Important to note, the use of words in this stanza. Browning- hardening, twisting- withering- In fact it is a process to turn a felled or cut-down tree into furniture wood. This line also clears and proves the fact that a tree is not an enemy to the man but it is the man who is enemy to the tree. we kill tree for our greed, for some material gain.
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