On Killing a Tree


‘On Killing a Tree’ is a tactful poem written by Gieve Patel through which the poet wants to convey to readers not to destroy trees and makes a connection between the killing of a tree with human beings.

Gieve Patel is an Indian poet, playwright, painter, and also a well-known physician. He is one of the active writers who spoke up for the Green Movement, an initiative to protect the environment. Some of his literary works include Urban, From Bombay Central, Post Mortem, Public Hospital, and Old man’s Death

The poem On Killing a Tree is full of poetic devices like metaphor (bleeding bark and leprous hide), personification (the tree is personified as a human), enjambment (Of scorching and choking in sun and air, Browning, hardening.), repetition(pulled out) and alliteration (It takes much time to kill a tree, The bleeding bark will heal). The poem does not have any rhyming words or rhyme schemes. It is rather written in free verse, and is more like a sarcastic protest poem for showing the brutal process of destroying a tree.

He says a plant takes a lot of years to grow into a tree and in this process the sun, air and water play an important role. Gradually, it turns out to be a big tree with strong trunks and numerous leaves.

Then he says that cutting a tree from its stem won’t kill it forever. It is similar to a human body, which bleeds due to cuts or wounds and gets healed afterward. Similarly, in the tree, leaves and trunks start recovering from the area where it is cut or broken from.

Then the poet sarcastically says that if you want to destroy a tree permanently you have to extract its roots. Then those white roots, which were the backbone of that tree, will get brown in colour, dried, and hardened and eventually, the tree will die. Thus a tree dies when it is detached from its mother earth, through which it was drawing essential nutrients for its life.

In this way, the poet is trying to emotionally connect his readers with trees, and make them aware of the destruction of nature, which is indirectly affecting human beings.


In conclusion, it can be said that the urbanization of modern society, is leading to the cutting of trees or removal of forests on a larger scale. Here the poet is sarcastically asking people to kill a tree by uprooting it from its roots rather than merely cutting it with an axe for temporary resources, which will not end the life of a tree rather it will re-grow in the same place.

Question and Answer

Q. Can a “simple jab of the knife” kill a tree? Why not?

Ans. No, a tree cannot be killed by a simple jab of the knife. As we cut a particular part of the tree, the sap would come out from that part and will heal the tree. This would help it grow again. For killing it, we need to uproot it thoroughly.

Q. How has the tree grown to its full size? List the words suggestive of its life and activity.

Ans. The tree has grown to its full size by extracting nutrients from the earth and receiving sunlight, water, and air required for this process. Some suggestive words given in the poem for its life and activity are; consuming the earth, rising out of it, feeding upon its crust, and absorbing years of sunlight, air, and water.

Q. What is the meaning of “bleeding bark”? What makes it bleed?

Ans. The “bleeding bark” refers to the liquid substance or white colour sap which comes out when we cut or break the stem of the tree. The cutting and chopping of the tree with a knife or axe, will make it bleed.

Q. The poet says “No” in the beginning of the third stanza. What does he mean by this?

Ans. No in the stanza signifies that the poet is stressing that mere hacking or chopping of the bark of the tree will not cause its death.

Q. What is the meaning of “anchoring earth” and “earth cave”?

Ans. Anchoring earth means that the tree is getting sufficient support from the earth in the form of nutrients. Whereas earth cave refers to the place beneath the ground where roots are tightly bound by the earth. In a nutshell, the earth is helping the tree to re-grow even if it is cut off without being uprooted.

Q. What does he mean by “the strength of the tree exposed”?

Ans. The strength of the tree is exposed when it is pulled out from its root which led to its complete demise with no scope of growing up again.

Q. What kills the tree?

Ans. The tree finally gets killed when it is extracted from the earth with its root. In this way, the sunlight which was falling on it, for its survival gets choked and it turns out to be dry, brown, and ultimately dies.


Q. Mention the kind of imagery used in the poem.

Ans. The poet has compared the tree with a human being who grows by taking nutrients from the earth as a mother like a baby. Then the poet also portrays how a tree gets healed if it is wounded by chopping and dies when it is entirely uprooted.

Q. How do roots help a tree to survive?

Ans. Roots absorb water and minerals from the soil. They also help to store nutrients required for the growth of the tree. These also help in transporting all these minerals to the stem and leaves for producing food.

Q. The sun and air help in growing as well as the killing of the tree. How?

Ans. When roots are tied under the earth's cave the sunlight and air help trees to produce their food and survive. The moment roots are pulled out from the earth these two elements start hardening and drying it out, hence paving the way for the death of the tree.

Q. Why do humans cut or kill trees?

Ans. The trees are killed for the expansion of agriculture, and infrastructure. industrialization and urbanization.