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On Killing a Tree

On Killing a Tree
Priyanshi Mehta
10, Apr 2020

 ‘On Killing a Tree’ is a beautiful poem written by Gieve Patel.

This poem portrays the unsatisfactory nature of humans.

It shows how cruelly humans chop off the trees which provide them with the most basic needs of life – air, food, and wood for building shelter.

The meaning of the poem is given as thus:

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.

The first stanza says that it isn’t easy killing a tree. It takes a lot of time and effort and not a just jab of a knife or axe would kill it. It grows slowly, taking the minerals from the soil, emerging from the Earth, absorbing the Earth; taking sunlight from the day life came into it, breathing in the air, taking the water. And gradually out of its dark, rough bark (referred to as leprous hide) small leaves shoot out.

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.

In the second stanza, the poet tells that a lot of hacking and chopping is required. In the third line, the poet uses sarcasm to put weight to what he is trying to say. He coveys that even the hell lot of pain which we are causing to the tree is not enough to destroy it completely. The personification used “the bleeding bark” portrays the wounds caused by the blows of the axe. However, he says that the wounds would heal up and slowly, twigs would start rising and the boughs will expand, and eventually, the tree, if unchecked will rise to the former size. In this stanza, the strength of the tree is glorified and its capacity to recover from the wounds is portrayed.

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

In this stanza, the poet explains that to kill a tree, it’s not only to be chopped off. It has to be roped firmly, and with a lot of energy, it’s to be snapped out completely from the crust. And only after that, the source of its sustenance, which was hidden inside the Earth for years, is exposed to the real world. It (the roots) is the most sensitive; however, it kept the tree upright from years together.

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

And then, finally, the last stanza ends on a sorrowful note with the tree scorching, choking, turning pale, hardening, twisting and withering in pain and, at last, it lays there, dead.

This poem shows that even after the innumerable ways in which trees help us, we’ve always got the evil ourselves which, more or less doesn’t care for anything except for itself.

Thus, it is really important for all of us to free ourselves FROM the evil ourselves and save nature before it’s too late, or, as we put it,

“Go Green Before Green Goes”

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