Introduction : ‘On Killing a Tree’ is a very popular poem by Gieve Patel. It is taken from Poems, published by Nissim Ezekiel in 1966. It is about man’s insensible destruction of trees.

Development of the Poem: The poem maintains a logical sequence. It describes the thoughtless act
of killing a tree with an ironical intent. The poet depicts all possible methods of killing from stabbing to withering. In nature, a tree grows gradually by consuming the vital, life-giving elements from the earth and absorbing sunlight, air and water for years. Man knows that killing a full grown tree is not an easy task. It requires much time and effort. Through experience man realises that neither a simple jab of the knife nor hacking and chopping can kill a tree. If it is cut, its bleeding bark will heal itself and fresh twigs will come out from close to the ground and the tree will grow up to its former size. So the tree is to be tied with a rope and pulled out entirely. Its lifesupporting root is to be cut off and exposed to the sun and air for scorching, choking, hardening, browning, and withering. Passing through these processes a tree is finally killed.

Conflict: The poem presents a conflict between man and nature. Trees are generous helpers and Nature is the best healer. But man’s greed knows no limits. Man kills trees thoughtlessly. A woodcutter hacks and chops with his axe. The tree bleeds but heals itself. It has the quality of forgiveness. Despite torture, it rises again to protect mankind. It overcomes man’s onslaught by growing green twigs close to the ground. With the help of its root it gets back life again. So long it lives, it gives in plenty. But it is compelled to surrender to the evil desires and greed of man. Man kills the tree by uprooting it completely.

Symbol: The poem is full of symbols representing life and death. Words and expressions like ‘feeding’, ‘absorbing’, ‘sunlight’, ‘air’, ‘water’, ‘sprouting leaves’, ‘heal’, ‘green twigs’ etc. suggest life and growth. On the other hand, ‘jab of the knife’, ‘hack and chop’, ‘bleeding bark’, ‘scorching’, ‘choking’, ‘browning’, ‘hardening’, ‘twisting’, ‘withering’ etc. suggest violence and death.

Irony: The poem is ironical. The irony lies in man’s killing of his best friend. The insensitive act of killing a tree is quite unexpected. At the end of the poem, the speaker declares with finality. And then it is done’. The expression ‘leprous hide’ suggests that the bark is affected and it can never promote growth. But it is ironical that this ‘leprous hide’ bears ‘sprouting leaves’. Again, it is ironical that fresh twigs come out of the ‘bleeding bark’. The same sunlight that promotes the growth of the tree, dries up the uprooted tree and makes it lifeless. The sun is both life-giver and life-taker.
Personification: The poet personifies the tree. It has the vitality for life like a human being. Words and expressions like ‘leprous hide’, ‘bleeding bark’, ‘pain’ suggest human qualities. Like human beings, the tree also struggles for existence. When it is hacked and chopped, it does not surrender. Despite torture it rises again to protect mankind. It displays strength and survives all odds till it is finally destroyed.

Message: The poet presents the theme of violence to uphold the philosophy of nonviolence. The whole process of killing a tree in such a violent manner imparts the lesson of nonviolence.. The poet depicts man’s cruelty to arouse our love and sympathy for nature. In the poem, the poet shows how a tree overcomes all casual attempts to kill a tree. It inspires all and gives us strength to withstand all odds. In all, the poem makes the readers aware against reckless felling of trees and urges us to save nature for our own sake.

Leave a Reply

You cannot copy content of this page