On Killing a Tree

by Gieve Patel

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How does Gieve Patel depict violence and non-violence in "On Killing a Tree"?

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Patel's "On Killing a Tree" depicts violence and the philosophy of non-violence depicting violence literally and non-violence ironically. The speaker lectures his audience from the standpoint of having done the deed of killing a tree at one time. His comments depict the experience of "hacking" and "chopping" until the entire tree is extracted from the earth, roots and all. Even after all of that, what is left of the tree must be left "scorching and choking/ In sun and air,/ Browning, hardening/ Twisting, withering." All of these actions take a tremendously violent effort.

Having done this, the speaker discourages others from doing it. It seems like a worthless, senseless act by the time he has finished his description. The tree, after all, has lifted itself triumphantly from the "leprous hide" of the earth, and will "expand again/ To former size" if left "unchecked." The effort it takes to kill the tree is a travesty in the speaker's mind. He's done it and is worse for the experience. That is where the philosophy of non-violence is found.

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 won't 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 boughs
Which if unchecked will expand again 
To former size.

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.

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