The Significance and Analysis of “On Killing a Tree” Poem


Poetry has always been a powerful medium to express emotions, thoughts, and ideas. One such poem that captivates readers with its profound meaning and vivid imagery is “On Killing a Tree” by Gieve Patel. This thought-provoking poem delves into the complex relationship between humans and nature, exploring the consequences of our actions on the environment. In this article, we will analyze the poem, uncover its underlying themes, and discuss its relevance in today’s world.

Understanding the Poem:

The poem “On Killing a Tree” was written by Gieve Patel, an Indian poet and playwright. It was first published in 1966 and has since become one of Patel’s most celebrated works. The poem consists of six stanzas, each containing four lines, and follows a consistent rhyme scheme of AABB.

Stanza 1: The Act of Killing

The poem begins with a powerful statement, “It takes much time to kill a tree.” This line immediately grabs the reader’s attention, hinting at the arduous process of destroying something that has taken years to grow. Patel emphasizes the effort required to kill a tree, highlighting the resilience and strength of nature.

He further describes the act of killing a tree as a deliberate and calculated process. The use of words like “hack,” “cut,” and “dig” portrays the violence and brutality involved. This imagery serves as a metaphor for the destructive actions of humans towards nature.

Stanza 2: The Tree’s Response

In the second stanza, Patel shifts the focus to the tree’s response to the act of killing. He personifies the tree, attributing human-like qualities to it. The tree is described as “stubborn” and “hard,” suggesting its determination to survive despite the onslaught.

Patel also introduces the concept of “sucking” in this stanza. He explains how the tree draws nutrients from the earth, reinforcing its connection to the natural world. This imagery highlights the tree’s ability to adapt and find sustenance even in adverse conditions.

Stanza 3: The Tree’s Defenses

The third stanza delves deeper into the tree’s defenses against its assailant. Patel describes how the tree “grows again,” emphasizing its regenerative power. The use of the word “green” symbolizes life and vitality, contrasting with the destructive actions of humans.

Furthermore, the poet mentions the tree’s ability to “thrust” its roots deeper into the ground. This imagery signifies the tree’s resilience and determination to survive, even in the face of adversity. It serves as a reminder of nature’s ability to withstand human interference.

Stanza 4: The Tree’s Persistence

In the fourth stanza, Patel continues to highlight the tree’s persistence. He describes how the tree “sends up a brave shoot” and “sprouts again.” This imagery showcases the tree’s unwavering spirit and its refusal to succumb to destruction.

Patel also introduces the concept of time in this stanza. He mentions how the tree will “outlive” the person who tries to kill it. This notion emphasizes the transient nature of human existence compared to the enduring presence of nature.

Stanza 5: The Tree’s Revenge

The fifth stanza takes a darker turn, as Patel explores the consequences of killing a tree. He suggests that the tree’s revenge lies in its ability to haunt the person who destroyed it. The phrase “ghosts with torn arms” evokes a haunting image, symbolizing the guilt and remorse that may plague the perpetrator.

Furthermore, Patel mentions how the tree’s absence will be felt in the form of “bleeding stumps.” This imagery serves as a reminder of the irreversible damage caused by human actions and the lasting impact on the environment.

Stanza 6: The Final Message

In the final stanza, Patel concludes the poem with a powerful message. He states, “For trees have the long breath of ages.” This line encapsulates the central theme of the poem – the enduring power of nature. It serves as a reminder that despite our attempts to destroy it, nature will always prevail.

Patel’s poem “On Killing a Tree” is a poignant reflection on the destructive relationship between humans and nature. It serves as a wake-up call, urging us to reconsider our actions and their impact on the environment.

Relevance in Today’s World:

The themes explored in “On Killing a Tree” are more relevant than ever in today’s world. As we face the consequences of climate change and environmental degradation, the poem serves as a reminder of the urgent need to protect and preserve our natural resources.

Here are some key takeaways from the poem:

  • Nature’s Resilience: The poem highlights the resilience of nature and its ability to adapt and survive despite human interference. This resilience serves as an inspiration for us to work towards sustainable practices and coexist harmoniously with the environment.
  • Consequences of Destruction: Patel’s poem emphasizes the lasting consequences of our actions on the environment. It reminds us that every tree we cut down, every ecosystem we destroy, has a ripple effect on the planet. We must consider the long-term impact of our choices and strive for conservation.
  • Human-Nature Connection: The poem underscores the interconnectedness between humans and nature. It reminds us that we are not separate from the environment but an integral part of it. By recognizing this connection, we can foster a sense of responsibility and work towards a sustainable future.


1. What is the central theme of “On Killing a Tree”?

The central theme of “On Killing a Tree” is the resilience and enduring power of nature. The poem highlights the destructive relationship between humans and the environment, urging us to reconsider our actions and their consequences.

2. How does Patel personify the tree in the poem?

Patel personifies the tree by attributing human-like qualities to it. He describes the tree as “stubborn” and “hard,” emphasizing its determination to survive. This personification serves to evoke empathy and highlight the tree’s struggle against destruction.

3. What message does the poem convey to readers?

The poem conveys a powerful message about the importance of preserving and respecting nature. It serves as a reminder of the consequences of our actions on the environment and urges us to adopt sustainable practices to ensure a harmonious coexistence with nature.

4. How does “On Killing a Tree” relate to current environmental issues?

The poem is highly relevant to current environmental issues, such as deforestation and climate change.

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