Symbols abound in Kofi Awoonor's poem "The Cathedral." First, the tree that once stood on the patch of ground symbolizes life and vigor, vitality and growth. It shed its "incense on the infant corn," the poet tells us. It blesses the crops, giving them the shade they need and perhaps the drops of water that scatter from its branches. These benefits are symbolized by the incense. The corn, too, is a symbol of growth and potential prosperity.
The boughs of the tree "stretched across a heaven," perhaps symbolizing the people's relationship with God, and the last fires may also represent some religious or traditional practice followed by the tribe. This scene with the tree at the center stands for a time when the people were connected to their heritage and prospered in the world.
But then, things changed. Some unknown people, specified here only as "they," sent builders and surveyors. They sent in the things of the modern world: new techniques, new people, new customs, and new ideas. The builders and surveyors cut down the tree. They severed the traditions and customs of the people. And they planted "A huge senseless cathedral of doom." This may or may not refer to a religious building, but it certainly stands for the structures of the modern world, the urbanization that draws people away from nature and from their past lives and immerses them in something that, according to the poet, will only bring them meaninglessness and harm.