What is the theme of the poem "On Killing a Tree"?

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Gieve Patel (born 1940) is an Indian poet and artist who was born in Mumbai, where he settled after obtaining his M.D. and where he works as a general practitioner. Patel is a member of the "Green Movement," a group of writers concerned with protecting the environment. In an interview, Patal described the genesis of the poem:

“I was twenty and studying medicine at Grant Medical College (Nagpada). One morning when I went to the college compound, I saw a beautiful tree uprooted by the storm. I sat down and wrote the poem.”

The first theme of the poem is the unity of the tree with the earth. The tree is portrayed as gradually emerging from the earth and drawing strength from it. When damaged, the tree can retreat back to its roots, still embedded in the earth, and grow again. It is only if the tree is ripped out of the earth entirely and its roots exposed that it will die.

This leads to a more metaphorical symbolic theme, namely that all life is connected to the earth and that when living beings are uprooted from the natural world and environment, they wither and die. Thus this poem emphasizes ecological themes connecting Earth and plants. Humans can destroy trees with sufficient effort, but the narrator describes this effort in ways that make it sound violent and almost murderous.

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The theme of a poem is the underlying message of the poem, or the poem's big idea. Two possible themes come to mind for Gieve Patel's "On Killing a Tree."

One possible theme has to do with the resilience of nature. The tree in this poem can sustain a lot of injury and hardship and still survive; if the reader of the poem views the tree as a symbol representing nature as a whole, humanity, or even an individual person, then a discussion of this theme of resilience can have a positive tone. After all, resilience is an admirable quality, and one that deserves celebration.

Another possible theme has to do with the vulnerability of nature, especially as the title of the poem is "On Killing a Tree." The tree in this poem is strong and resilient, but only to a point. Like any living thing, the tree has vulnerabilities, and if these vulnerabilities are exposed by violence, the tree will die. If the tree symbolizes anything else that is alive, then a discussion of this theme must contain a warning to the reader to protect vulnerabilities, as exposure can lead to death.

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