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Poem ‘The Trees’ Study Notes
POEM ‘THE TREES’ with EXPLANATION
The trees inside are moving out into the forest,
the forest that was empty all these days
where no bird could sit
no insect hide
no sun bury its feet in shadow
the forest that was empty all these nights
will be full of trees by morning.
Literally the poet sees that the trees in his house are moving outside into the forest which has been empty for a long time, but the word ‘trees’ has been used as an imaginary by the poet to show the destroyed forests and the false nature that humans have tried to keep in their houses for creating a false impression of nature or for decoration. Since the forest outside was vacant, no birds could sit on the branches of trees, no insects could hide in the trees and sunlight could never disappear under the shadows of the trees. The poet says that as the trees are moving out, the forests which were empty all these nights will be full of trees by the morning.
All night the roots work
to disengage themselves from the cracks
in the veranda floor.
The leaves strain toward the glass
small twigs stiff with exertion
long-cramped boughs shuffling under the roof
like newly discharged patients
to the clinic doors.
The stanza is devoted toward showing efforts of the ‘trees’ to leave the house to fill in or replenish the forests. The roots of the tree work all night to free themselves through the cracks on the Veranda floor. The leaves of the trees try very hard to put a lot of pressure on the glass window so that they could break it and go outside. The small twigs have become very hard due to applying so much pressure to free themselves. The larger branches of the trees have shrunk and had bent because of being inside all the walls and under the roof, where they cannot grow much. Trees try to move slowly from there and look like newly discharged patients from a hospital, who become half-shocked on coming to the outside world.
I sit inside, doors open to the veranda
writing long letters
in which I scarcely mention the departure
of the forest from the house.
The night is fresh, the whole moon shines
in a sky still open
the smell of leaves and lichen
still reaches like a voice into the rooms.
The poet sits in her house, writing long letters, with the doors of house opening to the Veranda. She mentions in her letters about the trees that are moving out to the empty forest. It is a full moon night where the moon is shining in the open sky and the night is very fresh. The smell of leaves and lichens reaches the poet like a voice coming from the rooms of the house.
My head is full of whispers
which tomorrow will be silent.
Listen. The glass is breaking.
The trees are stumbling forward
into the night. Winds rush to meet them.
The moon is broken like a mirror,
its pieces flash now in the crown
of the tallest oak.
The poet listens to the sounds coming from the leaves and lichens of the trees. These sounds will not be there in the morning as the trees will move out to the forest in the night and will not be in the house by morning. Now, the poet can hear the glass breaking due to the efforts of the twigs. The trees hurry outside stumbling on each other. As the trees go in the open, it seems like the wind is moving fast towards them to meet them. After going out into the forest, the tall trees stand straight in the forest. Its branches cover the moon due to which it looks like a broken mirror. The broken pieces of the moon seem like a crown of the tallest oak tree.
Empty—vacant, | Bury—to hide thing in sand etc, | Insect—small arthropod, | Shadow—shade, | Strain—tension, pressure, make efforts to move | Stiff—hard, | Long-cramped— over-stretched, or restricted, | Shuffling—changing place, | Discharge—to grant permission to leave, | Disengage themselves— to set free or separate themselves | Twig—branch, | Exertion—try, effort | Bough—branch, | Dazed—surprised, stunned, | Clinic— hospital, | Scarcely—hardly, | Departure— starting of something to move away, | Mention—to refer briefly, | Lichen—a plant that is found in still water, | Head—mind, | Whisper—conversation in low voice, | Silent—quiet, | Stumble—falter, | Winds—strong air, | Rush—run, | Flash—to shine, | Crown—the upper branches and leaves of a tree, |
Adrienne Rich was a well-known feminist writer. Her works explore issues of identity and justice, especially with respect to women’s position in society. In The Trees, she uses the symbol of trees to demonstrate oppressed women’s struggle for freedom.
This poem tells us that nature is not happy with us. It is going away from us. The poetess gives us a message through this poem that human activities are against nature. She says that the human interference has made the jungle useless for the wild animals and birds. Nature now feels trapped in human civilisation. Now it wants to get free. The plants and trees in the poet’s house are moving out into the forest.
The poetess tells us about the agony of nature that it is undergoing in the vicinity of human beings. The nice full moon starts shining on the leaves of a tall oak tree. She then expresses her sorrow over departure of nature. Tomorrow there will be complete silence in the house. This is because all the plants and trees would have moved out by then.
Broadly, ‘The Trees’ can be divided into:
- The Return
- The Struggle to Return
- The Poet’s Reaction
- The Trees are Free
- The poet states that the trees are moving back or returning to the forests.
- Until then, there were no trees in the forest where birds could sit.
- Insects could not hide inside tree branches. The sun rays could not disappear inside trees.
- But, now the forests – which were empty all these nights – will be full of trees by morning.
The Struggle to Return
- During the night, tree roots try to free themselves from the cracks of the veranda floor.
- Similarly, leaves and branches – stiff and cramped inside the house – work hard to escape through the glass window.
- The poet compares the movement of leaves and twigs to the confused movement of patients after being released from the hospital.
The Poet’s Reaction
- The poet now announces herself in the poem through the word ‘I’.
- She is sitting inside her house writing a letter. In the letter, she does not write about the strange event happening around her.
- Rather, she comments on the moving trees and the beautiful full moon night.
- The trees are only present through the scent that they have left behind.
- She compares this scent to a voice which still echoes in the room after the speaker has spoken.
The Trees are Free
- Rich now says that her head is full of echoes of trees breaking out of their anchors.
- She asks the reader to listen to the sound of glass breaking.
- The trees have broken from the houses and are moving into the open night. The wind blows strongly to welcome them.
- Rich cannot see the full moon anymore.
- The trees block her full view. They break the moon and make it look like pieces of a broken mirror.
- These pieces are reflected in the ‘crown’ or the top of the tallest oak tree.
The poem ‘The Trees’ by Adrienne Rich shows the conflict between man and nature. With the growth and development of society, human beings have used nature for their own benefit and caused a lot of harm to it. The poet wants to give the message that the presence of a few trees inside our homes does not become equal to nature, it is a very false idea of nature. Real nature is outside, in the forests that we have destroyed.
The poem tells us how the trees want to break free from the walls that humans have put around them, and go out in the forest.
The major themes of this poem are:
- Humanity vs Nature
Humanity vs Nature
- In the poem, Rich describes some consequences of the absence of trees from forests.
- She says that without trees and their branches, birds have nowhere to sit. Similarly, insects have no place where they can hide.
- Through this, Rich may be highlighting how human activities like deforestation and the felling of trees have damaged nature.
- These activities have destroyed the natural habitats of birds, insects, and other species.
- In the poem, Rich uses trees to symbolise women’s quest for freedom.
- She vividly details how the trees fight to reach their home, the forest.
- Trees’ roots struggle to break free from the veranda floor. Similarly, leaves and twigs labour to escape through the glass windows.
- Their movement resembles the ‘half-dazed’ or confused movement of patients who have just been released from the hospital.
- Through these images, Rich stresses on the difficulties that women face while overcoming long-established traditions.
- Thus, the trees’ struggle to escape from the houses to the forest reflects a woman’s struggle to shatter the barriers that are binding her and attain freedom.
The poem provides a glimpse of the poet Adrienne Rich’s character.
- Hopeful: Rich notes that once the trees return to the empty forest, birds and insects will once again have sitting and hiding places respectively. So, she adopts a hopeful tone as she imagines the trees returning to their homes.
- Thoughtful: Rich encourages readers to listen to the sound of glass shattering as the trees move towards the forests. This indicates that she understands the significance of the event taking place, and wants to draw others’ attention to it.
POETIC DEVICES: The Trees
A few key literary elements in the poem are:
- Rhyme scheme
This poem doesn’t have a rhyme scheme since it has been written in free verse.
- In the poem, Rich uses trees as symbols.
- The trees represent the restrictions placed upon women and their decision to break such chains and achieve their freedom.
- There are three instances of simile in this poem.
- In the third stanza, Rich compares the movement of trees from the houses to ‘newly discharged’ or released patients who move slowly towards the hospital doors.
- In the fourth stanza, she compares the smell left by the trees to the echo still left in the room after a speaker has spoken.
- In the last three lines of the poem, she compares the view of the moon to shards or pieces of a broken mirror.
The words ‘trees’, ‘forest’, ‘night’, and ‘moon’ are repeated to emphasise the extraordinary event happening in the poem.
- Rich has personified trees in the poem. Their movements of ‘moving’ and ‘stumbling forward’ resemble the movements of humans.
- The line ‘small twigs stiff with exertion’ is also an example of personification. Rich depicts twigs as suffering from exhaustion here.
- Rich has also personified the sun in the line ‘no sun bury its feet in shadow’. Here, the sun has been granted ‘feet’.
- Rich employs rich visual imagery in the lines ‘long-cramped boughs shuffling under the roof/like newly discharged patients’. These lines vividly portray the movement of trees from their confining prisons into the open forest.
- Rich also uses imagery to describe her half-blocked view of the moon after the trees have moved into the forest. She says that the moon looks like a ‘broken’ mirror. Its pieces ‘flash’ or are reflected in the ‘crown’ or the top of the ‘tallest oak’ tree.