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Summary: The poem is about trees, as the title suggests. It describes how humans have destroyed forests and cut down trees for their own benefit. To meet their needs, humans have confined trees to the four walls of their homes. According to the poetess, because trees live in the forest, keeping them inside the home is a crime. The poem conveys the message that everyone longs for freedom. We must obey nature’s laws and not try to overthrow them.
The poetess claims in the first stanza that the forest is the true home of trees. As a result, all of the trees are moving into the forest, which had been deserted for a long time. The poetess uses trees as a metaphor to demonstrate how drastically humans have destroyed the forests in this poem. They have cut down the trees to meet their needs and have confined them to the walls of their homes. However, these trees have begun to move and are making their way towards the forest. Since the forest was devoid of life, no birds could perch on the branches of trees, no insects could hide in the trees, and the sun could never disappear beneath the shadow of the trees. However, now that the trees have begun to move, the empty forest will be filled with trees by the following morning.
The second stanza describes the effort made by trees to break free from the confines of human dwellings. According to the poetess, the tree roots work all night to separate themselves from the cracks in the veranda floor. The tree’s leaves attempt to exert pressure on the glass in order to shatter it. Because of the constant effort to free themselves, the tree’s small stems have become hard. Because there is less space for the tree’s long branches to expand under the roof, they have shrunk. Trees move slowly away from home and resemble newly discharged hospital patients. They are a little perplexed as they make their way to the clinic door because they cannot believe they are returning to their actual home in the forest.
The poetess says in the third stanza that she sits inside the house on the veranda with the doors open. She writes lengthy letters in which she barely mentions the trees’ departure to their empty forest. It’s late at night, and the moon is shining brightly in the sky. The poetess can detect the odour of leaves and lichen approaching her. The smell of trees reaches her in the same way that a voice does.
The poetess listens to the whisper of the trees leaving the house in this stanza. The trees will reach the empty forest the following day, and the house will fall silent. The poetess can now hear the sound of glass shattering. As the glass breaks, the trees move quickly, collapsing on each other. The trees sense that the wind is picking up speed as it prepares to meet them. The trees are so tall that they shatter the moon like a mirror. The moon now resembles a crown on the oak trees’ heads.
Thinking about the poem
1. i) Find, in the first stanza, three things that cannot happen in a treeless forest.
Answer: In the absence of trees, no birds can sit, no insects can hide, and the sun cannot bury its feet in shadow.
ii) What picture do these words create in your mind: “….. sun bury its feet in shadow…..?’ What could the poet mean by the sun’s ‘feet’?
Answer: According to the poet, the image depicts the sun. The rays of the Sun do not reach the Earth. The earth is shrouded in shadow. The term “sun’s feet” refers to the rays of the sun that are blocked by clouds or other factors.
2. i) Where are the trees in the poem? What do their roots, their leaves, and their twigs do?
Answer: The trees in the poem are housed in tubs in the room. Their roots try to push their way through the cracks in the veranda floor. Their leaves fall into the glass, and their twigs move beneath the roof.
ii) What does the poet compare their branches to?
Answer: The poet compares their branches to newly discharged patients staggering to the clinic’s doors.
3. i) How does the poet describe the moon: (a) at the beginning of the third stanza, and (b) at its end? What causes this change?
Answer: (a) The moon was full and shining in the open sky at the beginning.
(b) At the end, it is shattered like a mirror.
This is caused by the movement of the trees.
ii) What happens to the house when the trees move out of it?
Answer: When the trees leave the house, it undergoes a transformation. Its glass is shattered, and the wind rushes through it, carrying the scent of leaves with it.
iii) Why do you think the poet does not mention the departure of the forest from the house’ in her letters? (Could it be that we are often silent about important happenings that are so unexpected that they embarrass us? Think about this again when you answer the next set of questions.)
Answer: The poet does not mention the trees’ departure because it is unusual and she may have been embarrassed.
4. Now that you have read the poem in detail, we can begin to ask what the poem might mean. Here are two suggestions. Can you think of others?
(i) Does the poem present a conflict between man and nature? Compare it with A Tiger in the Zoo. Is the poet suggesting that plants and trees, used for ‘interior decoration’ in cities while forests are cut down, are ‘imprisoned’, and need to “break out”?
Answer: Yes. The poem depicts a clash between man and nature. Man has exploited nature for his own gain. Forests are being cut down at an alarming rate. In zoos, wild animals are imprisoned in cages. Plants and trees, in fact, are also imprisoned. They should be allowed to grow on their own.
(ii) On the other hand, Adrienne Rich has been known to use trees as a metaphor for human beings; this is a recurrent image in her poetry. What new meanings emerge from the poem if you take its trees to be symbolic of this particular meaning?
Answer: The new interpretation is that man cannot be confined. Man will proliferate and overthrow the control. There will be a catastrophe. The trees breaking the house represent man interfering with nature and upsetting the ecological balance. The survival of us is jeopardised. The poet refers to a real danger to humanity in this passage.
5. You may read the poem ‘On Killing a Tree’ by Gieve Patel. Compare and contrast it with the poem you have just read.
Answer: Both of the poems are about trees. Man has cut down forests, but he has put plants inside his house to decorate it. The poet states in ‘On Killing a Tree’ that it is difficult to kill a tree. It should be completely eradicated or it will grow back.
Both the poem and the story depict man’s cruelty to trees.
Extra/additional questions and answers/solutions
1. Why do the trees need to be relocated? Where have they been and why?
Answer: The forest’s trees have been felled, and man has planted trees in his courtyard for purely decorative purposes. It gives the trees the impression of being suffocated and out of place. As a result, they must turn back into the forest. They’ve been imprisoned in city houses because men have imprisoned them there.
14. ‘Departure is painful.’ So, too, is the poet’s departure from the trees. What will happen after they leave?
Answer: Just as the departure of a loved one is painful, so is the departure of a tree. They look nice when planted as saplings and add to the beauty of our surroundings. However, as they grow and spread their branches, they appear wild and require more space for growth. The roots cause cracks in the floor, and the leaves stretch out as if moving towards the glass, possibly in search of sunlight. The soft twigs harden and stiffen. As a result, the trees on the property must be removed. The leaves no longer cover the sky, but the trees breathe and are welcomed by the wind. The moon resembles a shattered mirror as it reflects off the leaves. The poet admits that she will be lonely after the trees have gone.
15. How does the poem make a strong anti-deforestation argument?
Answer: The poem, sends a strong message against deforestation. When the poet says that without trees, there will be no shadow, no forest, no place for birds to sit, and no place for insects to hide, it emphasises the importance of trees. The plant, as a sapling, adds to the beauty of its surroundings by spreading its branches, leaves, and roots around. It sends the suit home. Thus, the trees are welcomed by the poem’s strong winds and the moon. The poet does not want to mention the forests’ departure because she feels guilty for simply looking silently at them as they leave. In this way, she subtly highlights man’s apathy toward forests.
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