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On Killing a Tree Summary in English by Gieve Patel

On Killing a Tree by Gieve Patel About the Poet

Gieve Patel (1940-) is a famous Indian poet and playwright. Patel belongs to a group of writers who have subscribed themselves to the ‘Green Movement’ which is involved in an effort to protect the environment. His poems speak of deep concerns for nature and expose man’s cruelty to it. Patel’s works include Poems which was launched by Nisim Ezekiel in 1966, How Do You Withstand, Body (1976) and Mirrored Mirroring (1991). He has also written three plays titled Princes, Savaska, and Mr Behram. He currently resides in Mumbai and practices medicine. He is also a painter. As one of the contemporary Indian artists, he has been part of exhibitions around the world.

Poet Name Gieve Patel
Born 1940 (age 80 years), Mumbai
Education Grant Medical College
Profession Poet, Playwright, Painter, Physician, Artist
Books Mirrored, Mirroring, Mister Behram and Other Plays, Gieve Patel: Sculptures and Drawings
Nationality Indian, British Raj
On Killing a Tree Summary by Gieve Patel
On Killing a Tree Summary by Gieve Patel

On Killing a Tree Introduction to the Chapter

The poem On Killing a Tree has been taken from Gieve Patel’s anthology named Poems. The poem is a graphic picture of man’s cruelty towards the tree, which symbolises Nature. The poet gives us step-by-step instructions on how to kill a tree and makes us realize that killing a tree is akin to murdering a human being. It also refers to the destructive nature of humans and the indestructibility of Nature.

On Killing a Tree Summary in English

On Killing a Tree paints a vivid and brutal picture of what is involved in killing a tree. The poet tells us that killing a tree is a difficult and time-consuming process. Simply stabbing it with a knife is not enough to kill it. A tree grows straight out the earth, getting its nourishment from the nutrients found in the earth, along with years of sunlight, water, and air. The leaves and branches of the tree sprout from its bark which looks diseased because it is irregular and scaly.

Hacking a tree with a knife or an axe or chopping off a bough may inflict pain on the tree but it is not enough to bring a tree down. The ‘bleeding bark’ – the wound in the bark from where the sap flows out or where a bough has been chopped off – will heal with time. New green twigs will grow again; boughs that were chopped off will be replaced by new boughs, which will grow to their former size.

The poet then goes on to give instructions how a tree could be killed. He says to kill a tree its root has to be pulled out of the earth. The term ‘anchoring earth’ implies that the trees are held secure with the help of the roots in the earth. So long as the roots are firmly held by the earth, the tree is safe and cannot be killed by a simple jab of a knife. To kill the tree, it is essential that the root, which is the source of a tree’s life, must be pulled out of its deep hole in the earth. By ‘earth-cave’ the poet suggests the space created in the earth by uprooting a tree. Once the centre, the life source – the root – is exposed, the tree becomes vulnerable. The source is described as white and wet, probably alluding to tree sap which is a white liquid.

If it is exposed to the sun and air, this life source will be scorched. Slowly, it will start to become brown, with all the softness fading out. With time, it will wither, become dry and bent out of shape, leaving a corpse where a tree used to be. In short, the exposure will leave the root vulnerable to all vagaries of weather, which will ultimately weaken the tree and kill it.

On Killing a Tree Theme

In On Killing a Tree, Gieve Patel gives us a a graphic picture of man’s killing of the tree. He says that hacking a tree with a knife or an axe will not harm it. The bleeding bark will heal and the tree will grow again to its former size. To be killed a tree must be uprooted completely. The poet hints at rampant deforestation and through the very visual representation of the murder of a tree wishes to communicate to the readers the dangers of deforestation. The poet considers the tree as a living organism which has the right to live like any other creatures on earth. But man is killing trees with utmost cruelty and callousness. The tree represents Nature and the poem also suggests that nature is indestructible. The tree could also be a symbol of mankind. Despite wars and other destructive activities, human kind will not easily come to end.

On Killing a Tree Tone

In On Killing a Tree, the poet, Gieve Patel adopts a sarcastic tone to make us aware of the vulnerability of human lives, and how proper care of environment can keep one safe from harm. Man is presented as a killer who thinks of all possible ways to get rid of the tree, which represents Nature. The poet, ironically, suggests how to completely kill a tree. For years, the tree, like a parasite, has consumed the earth’s crust and absorbed sunlight, air and water to grow up like a giant. So, the tree must be killed. But it is not an easy task. A simple jab of the knife will not do it. From close to the ground it will rise up again and grow to its former size. It will again become a threat to man. So, the tree should be tied with a rope and pulled out entirely. Its white, bleeding root should be exposed. Then it should be browned and hardened and twisted and withered and it is done.

On Killing a Tree Message

Gieve Patel gives a very important message in his poem On Killing a Tree. Trees feel pain, grief, suffering, sorrows and joys as sensitively as human beings do. So we should never hurt them. The poet reminds us that we have not inherited these green trees for our use; they are held by us in trust for our future generations. It is, therefore, our sacred duty to conserve trees as a legacy for future.

On Killing a Tree Title

In the poem On Killing a Tree Gieve Patel, from its beginning to the end, describes in detail the process and consequences of killing a tree. In the first two stanzas the poet talks about Nature’s resilience. He feels one cannot kill a tree with just a stab of a knife. The tree has grown slowly consuming the earth and absorbing years of sunlight, air and water. So the tree cannot be tree cannot be killed easily. The bleeding bark will quickly heal and the tree will produce curled green twigs, which will soon expand to their former size. In the following two stanzas he gives a detailed process of killing a tree. The root of the tree must be entirely pulled out of the earth into which it had been anchored and then left exposed to wither and die. Then only will the killing process be over. In this way the poet highlights man’s systematic destruction of the environment. Hence the title is appropriate and it drives the poet’s point home in a superb way.

On Killing a Tree Setting

The setting of the poem is the modem world. The world is facing rapid deforestation for urbanisation and industrialisation. This world where trees are being killed is the setting of the poem.

On Killing a Tree Literary Devices


Imagery is a poetic device wherein the author uses words or phrases that appeal to any of the senses or any combination of senses to create “mental images” for the reader. Imagery helps the reader to visualize more realistically the author’s writings.

Examples: Slowly consuming the earth,/Rising out of it, feeding
Upon its crust, absorbing/Years of sunlight, air, water,
And out of its leperous hide/Spouting leaves ’ –

The imagery used here is strong and it depicts the growth of the tree by consuming nutrients from the earth and absorbing sunlight, air and water from nature.

The language through the poem is simple, remarkable and vivid. Every word in the poem has a remarkable evocative power and is accurate and suggestive. Expression such as “bleeding bark” “leprous hide” and “anchoring earth” present memorable visual images. The poem powerfully portrays man’s callousness in killing a tree. It is a telling commentary on one of the major environmental issues that encounters modem man.


The term irony refers to a discrepancy, or disagreement, of some sort. The discrepancy can be between what someone says and what he or she really means or verbal irony. The discrepancy can be between a situation that one would logically anticipate or that would seem appropriate and the situation that actually develops or situational irony.

The poet describes the cruelty of man in annihilating the tree with irony and detachment. He tells the man how hacking the tree with an axe will only injure it, and not kill it. To kill the tree, it must be uprooted and its roots exposed to the sun. Only then will the tree wither and die. But, the poet’s own sympathy is with the tree.


A figure of speech which endows animals, ideas, or inanimate objects with human traits or abilities. Personification is the poetic practice of attributing human qualities, a character or personality to inanimate or non¬human beings such that they appear to be living human beings.

In the poem the tree has been personified. The poet speaks of trees as human beings, when he says that one cannot kill a tree with a jab of a knife or by hacking it, like they would kill any human being, ‘bleeding bark’— this is an example of personification. The tree is portrayed as a human being throughout the poem, and thus, the part of the bark where it is wounded is represented as bleeding.

Rhyme Scheme

There is no particular rhyme scheme followed in this poem. The poem is divided into 4 stanzas. Each stanza comprises varying lines. The poem is then written in free verse.

On Killing a Tree Summary Questions and Answers

Question 1.
How does a tree become strong?
A tree feeds on the earth’s crust, consuming nutrients from the earth. The tree also absorbs years of sunlight, air and water. This makes it strong.

Question 2.
“So hack and chop/ But this alone won’t do it.” What won’t this do? Why won’t it do it?
Hacking and chopping is not enough to kill a tree. The tree endures the pain but continues to live on as it heals over time. The bark which has been chopped will heal itself. Green twigs and small branches will soon emerge from the bleeding bark and in time the tree will regrow to its original size.

Question 3.
What is the meaning of “bleeding bark”? What makes it bleed?
Bleeding bark suggests the wound on the tree that is caused by hacking or chopping the tree. When the branches of a tree are chopped off, the tree bleeds as the sap can be seen to flow. It expresses the pain of a tree.

Question 4.
What are miniature boughs? What happens if they are left unchecked?
Miniature boughs are new branches which sprout where the tree was hacked or chopped. If they are left unchecked, they expand and become a huge tree. The chopped tree grows back to its former size.

Question 5.
How does the tree heal itself?
The tree is equipped with a power to heal itself. When a tree is hacked or chopped, leaves sprout from the wopnded bark. From close to the ground curled green twigs rise. Miniature boughs expand again to their former size. The tree, in time, grows back to its former size.

Question 6.
How does the poet describe the growth of the tree in the first stanza of the poem?
The poet says that the tree grows slowly getting its nutrients from the earth. Then it absorbs sunlight, water and air for many years. The bark of the tree looks ugly because it is rough and has crooked lines on it. It is very ironical that soft and green leaves come out of the leprous hide. Gradually, it grows into a big tree.

Question 7.
Why does it take so much time to kill a tree?
It is not easy to kill a tree simply by hacking or chopping it. The tree has deep roots which give birth to tiny twigs and branches which help the tree attain its old stature. For a tree to be killed, 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.

Question 8.
How does the tree grow to its full size? List the words suggestive of its life and activity.
The tree grows to its full size by consuming nutrients from the earth, feeding upon its crust absorbing years of light, air and water. Consuming, rising, feeding and absorbing are the words suggestive of its life and activity.

Question 9.
The poet uses 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’s crust”.

Question 10.
Why does the poet use the word ‘kill’ rather than ‘cut’?
The poet makes a distinction between cutting a tree and killing it. Cutting a tree, or hacking and chopping, does not destroy the tree completely, and the tree regrows by sending out new shoots and miniature boughs. The poet then gives step-by-step instructions on the total annihilation of a tree. Once the roots of the tree are pulled out, and are exposed to sun and air, the killing of the tree is complete. The tree will have no second life.