On Killing A Tree: Poem Summary & Question Answer

On Killing A Tree


Summary of On Killing a Tree

“On Killing a Tree” is a sensitive poem. The poet persuades the reader not to destroy trees and equates it with “killing” a human being. He says that a plant takes sunlight, water, air and nutrients from the soil to gradually become a huge tree. It develops a strong trunk and gets numerous leaves. Merely cutting the trunk of the tree does not kill it. When a tree is cut, the sap flows out just like a wounded man bleeds. Once the wound heals, new branches and tiny leaves grow from there which grow into trees.

In order to destroy a tree, it has to be uprooted. The roots which are white in colour and are damp due to the moisture that they get from the soil are hidden in a pit in the Earth. These roots are the most sensitive part of the tree as they bind it to the earth. In order to kill the tree, these roots have to be detached from the soil. Once the roots are detached, the tree starts dying, It withers, dries up with the action of heat and wind, twists, hardens and finally, dies.

About The Author of On Killing a Tree

Gieve Patel is considered to be the poet of the body since the human body is a recurrent theme in a majority of his poems. In his poems, the body acts as a living metaphor. His sympathies are with the oppressed or down-trodden and anyone devoid of his basic right to live. In an appropriately titled poem, The Ambiguous Fate of Gieve Patel, he being neither a part of Hinduism nor Islam in India, he grieves the isolation faced by the Parsis in the starting line of the short poem based on communal riots, when he writes; “To be no part of this hate is deprivation”.

As a Parsi observer, he cannot choose to be a part of either side, he poignantly remarks, “Planets focus their fires/into a worm of destruction/Edging along the continent. Bodies/Turn ashen and shrivel. I only burn my tail.” He is thus counted among the well-known Parsi writers in India.

Paraphrase of the Poem

[1-9 lines]

It takes a lot of time and strength to kill a tree because it grows slowly and rises out of the earth by absorbing years of sunlight air and water. So, it is not easy to kill a tree with a single stroke of a knife.

[10-19 lines] 

The tree has deep roots which draw its sap from the earth. It gives rise to tiny twigs and miniature boughs. We hack and chop to kill a tree. But hacking and chopping cannot destroy it completely as green twigs are sure to emerge from the bleeding bark. The miniature boughs (branches) will grow from close to the ground and grow back to their normal size.

Here the poet uses the imagery of violence like cutting, jabbing, bleeding contrasted with the spreading of leaves and boughes.

[20-29 lines]

The source of the tree is its roots which is white and wet. The secret of its strength is that it is hidden inside the earth for years together. It is fixed firmly in the earth. Thus to kill a tree it has to be uprooted, scorched and choked in the sun. It takes much time to kill a tree.

[30-35 lines]

After uprooting, the roots are to be exposed to the sunlight till they dry and become brown. Then it stops breathing. It becomes hardened, twisted and browned.

Question Answer

“It takes much time to kill a tree. Not a simple job of the knife. Will do it….” Why does it takes so much time to kill a tree?

Killing a tree is not easy to kill a tree simply with a stroke of a knife. The tree has deep roots which give rise to tiny twigs and miniature boughs. The root has to be uprooted, and it has to be scorched and choked in sun and air. This process takes much time and it requires a lot of effort. Then only the tree is killed.

“Not a simple Job of the knife will do it”, There are several images of death and violence in the poem. can you list them?

The images of death are “hack, chop, scorching, choking, browning, hardening, twisting and withering”. The words that show violence are roped tied, pulled out and snapped out entirely from the earth crust.

Why does the poet use the word ‘kill’ rather than ‘destroy? Does it suggest his attitude to trees? What do you think is his attitude to them?

The poet treats trees as living organisms that feel pain and pleasure like human beings. He, therefore, feels that trees should not be deprived of their right to live. So his attitude to trees is quite humane.

Why does the poet talk about ‘killing’ a tree?

The poet considers every tree as a living organism. It too feels pain and pleasure like human beings. So he uses the expression ‘killing the tree’ rather than ‘destroying’ or ‘cutting’ it. According to him, a tree cannot be denied the right to live. So his attitude towards trees is fairly humane is sympathetic.

It has grown slowly… ‘The word ‘grow’ is suggestive of life. There were several words of the same kind. Can you spot them? Why do you think the poet uses such words?

Besides the word ‘grow’ there were several words of the same kind such as consume, rise feed, absorb, sprout etc., which are suggestive of life. The poet uses these words to emphasize that the tree is also a living being.

The bark of the tree is described as the ‘leprous hide’. What grows from it? How is it “Ironic” that the leprous hide sprouted leaves?

Leaves grow from the leprous hide is the bark of the tree. Leprosy usually eats away the body. It never promotes growth. But, here, the leprous hide that has a cruel tendency of killing has been depicted as a source of growth. Thus, it is ironic.

How much does hacking and chopping help in destroying a tree? Why? Which words suggest that the tree is very much a living organism?

Hacking and chopping will not help in destroying a tree. It may give a death blow to the tree but it cannot annihilate it, for green twigs will soon emerge from the bleeding bark. The words bleeding, heal, rise, expand suggest that the tree is very much a living organism.

9.” So hack and chop But this alone won’t do it”. What methods are generally used to kill a tree? Can the methods fully be worked out? 

What does ‘it’ refer to? Hacking and chopping are generally used to kill a tree. These methods cannot be fully worked out. They may give a death blow to the tree but cannot destroy it completely as green twigs are sure to emerge from it. ‘It’ refers to ‘killing a tree’.

  1. Contrast ‘bleeding bark’ with ‘green twigs’. What does ‘blood represent? What does ‘green’ show? Have you noticed the change from death to life?

‘Bleeding bark’ is suggestive of deterioration whereas ‘green twigs’ suggest fresh growth. ‘Blood’ represents death. Green shows the springing of life. ‘Green’ and ‘blood’ symbolize the change from death to life.

11. How does the poet describe the uprooting of a tree?

  1. “Neither a simple job of a knife nor hacking and chopping kill a tree.
  2. Hence the root of the tree should be pulled out of the earth.
  3. It would, then, be roped, tied and snapped out.
  4. So it should be pulled out entirely from the earth cover.
  5. It should be exposed to sunlight.
  6. This, according to the poet, is the complete process of uprooting a tree.

12. “The sources, white and wet, The most sensitive, hidden for years inside the earth”. What is the source of the tree? How is it? What is the secret of its strength?

The source of the tree is its root. It is white and wet. The secret of its strength is that it is hidden inside the earth for years together. It clings firmly to the layers of the earth.

  1. “And the strength of the tree exposed the source, white and wet, the most sensitive….” Where does the strength of the tree lie? Why is it referred to as ‘the source’? Why is the source most sensitive one?

The strength of the tree lies in its roots. The roots give strength to the tree. So they are the source of the strength. It is the most sensitive because it has been hidden for years inside the earth.

  1. Why does the poet describe the killing of a tree in such graphic detail?

Gieve Patel is sympathetic towards trees and treats them as living organisms. He feels that they should not be denied the right to live. What he means is that trees should not be destroyed indiscriminately. He, therefore, describes the killing of a tree in such graphic detail as to evoke sympathy for trees. According to him, to hurt a tree is to hurt a human being.