On Killing a Tree by Gieve Patel

Gieve Patel was born in 1940 in Mumbai. He was educated at St Xavier's High School and Grant Medical College. He lives in Mumbai where he is a general practitioner.

The Poem

It takes much time to kill a tree,
Not a simple jab of the knife
Will do it. It has grown
Slowly consuming the earth,
Rising out of it, feeding
Upon its crust, absorbing
Years of sunlight, air, water,
And out of its leperous hide
Sprouting leaves.

So hack and chop
But this alone wont do it.
Not so much pain will do it.
The bleeding bark will heal
And from close to the ground
Will rise curled green twigs,
Miniature boughs
Which if unchecked will expand again
To former size.

The root is to be pulled out -
Out of the anchoring earth;
It is to be roped, tied,
And pulled out - snapped out
Or pulled out entirely,
Out from the earth-cave,
And the strength of the tree exposed,
The source, white and wet,
The most sensitive, hidden
For years inside the earth.

Then the matter
Of scorching and choking
In sun and air,
Browning, hardening,
Twisting, withering,
And then it is done.


“On killing a tree” is written by Gieve Patel. It tells us that only cutting the branches or cutting its stem is not enough to kill a tree. The branches and leaves will grow again. We need to cut out the root and dry it in the sun so that it is destroyed. This poem highlights a lot of morals. Firstly, it displays the destructive nature of humans. Secondly, it shows that Mother Nature is inevitable and cannot be easily destroyed. Thirdly, the tree is a symbol of mankind. It says that human life is not so easy to end. If we cut the fingers or the skin, then we do not die. It is the heart that should be cut-out. This is the main theme of the poem. The poem is very short. But it slashes out scar in our minds.

Full Interpretation

In the poem, “On Killing a Tree” by Gieve Patel, the poet wants to say something about the cutting of trees. According to him, it will take too much time to kill a tree. It is not just a simple jab: a quick stab or blow: to do the job. The tree has grown slowly consuming the earth: eating and drinking from it: rising out of the earth, feeding upon the crust of the earth, absorbing: taking in: innumerable years of sunlight, air water, out of the trees’ leprous hide: resembling the skin of a leper (here) refers to the discolored bark of the tree: the newly formed leaves begin to sprout.

A woodcutter may hack: cut or chop with repeated and regular blows: and chop, but still this alone will not do the job. The tree does not seem to feel any kind of pain because the bleeding bark seemed to heal all the time. The trunk of the tree from close to the ground will produced curled green twigs that will rise from the miniature bows. If their growth is not checked, then they will expand again and grow to their former sizes.
The most important thing to do while killing a tree is to ensure that the root is pulled out of the anchoring: source of security and stability: earth. The tree is to be rope-tied and pulled out: snapped out: pulled apart or break with a snapping sound: or it should be pulled out entirely from the earth cave.

Finally, the strength of the tree will be exposed, from the very source where the white and wet, which is the most sensitive part which has been hidden for many years inside the earth. Then it is only a matter of scorching: burning superficially so as to discolor or damage the texture of: and choking: here drying up: in the sun. In the end, the tree will go through a process of browning, hardening, twisting and withering. Then ultimately, the tree gets killed.
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+ Comments + 31 Comments

29 May 2014 at 04:07

In this poem the tree is not only the symbol of human but it also the symbol of inhuman practice of the society. If we want to remove the brutality of human completely, we have to remove it from its source as the tree is to uproot from the earth-cave to destroy it cometely. It is not the easy task to kill all the brutalities of human in a simple effort. We have to try hard to do that job.

26 June 2015 at 06:51

This poem is nothing but a confused creation

17 July 2015 at 00:29

Bullshit poem

22 July 2015 at 10:45

Very apt

17 October 2015 at 22:14

this poem tells a whine or nature that how brutally you'll have to effort to kill it knowing it's a human life source
this poem is make people realize not to cut trees 'cos it just like a murder

17 October 2015 at 22:17

this poem tells a whine or nature that how brutally you'll have to effort to kill it knowing it's a human life source
this poem is make people realize not to cut trees 'cos it just like a murder

9 May 2016 at 22:21

Totally confusing poem...

4 January 2017 at 08:07

What is the main theme of the poem in a sentence?

16 August 2017 at 05:44

touching poem

13 March 2018 at 09:22

I think everybody is missing the point. This poem is about killing a bad habit...It takes much time and effort to kill a bad habit.Had learnt this poem in school almost now 40 years ago. It has a deeper meaning than just the art of killing a tree!

27 June 2018 at 04:17

Oh its a great meaning about this poem.Thank You

2 September 2018 at 05:21

A thought provoking poem teaching about the imporyance of nature and humanity.

26 September 2018 at 23:00

The poem is an excellent effort to sensitize human beings towards trees. The poet has used a reverse psychology where in he tried to portray the brutality involved in killing a tree. And asks us some subtle questions - Does it suit us to show this brutality to trees who compliments our life completely? Can we live without them? Aren't we growing very insensitive?

29 September 2018 at 21:16

Bullshit people think everything bullshit

1 October 2018 at 03:35

A tree can't be an symbol of destruction so, I think it is not so.

18 October 2018 at 09:29

The poet attacks social evils in this poem According to poet if we want our socity free from evils we must know the root case of evils

26 October 2018 at 06:33

Good poem

26 October 2018 at 09:07

What is moral plzz urgent

1 November 2018 at 20:25

Hai this is wonderful topics this lesson is there

1 November 2018 at 20:25

Hai this is wonderful topics this lesson is there

2 November 2018 at 07:26

Gud poem

5 November 2018 at 01:02


7 November 2018 at 06:01

A tree doesn't grow in a day
Explain it with reference to the poem

10 November 2018 at 10:48

u have to look at the tree as an human to find the significance of the poem

15 November 2018 at 10:21

Hey.. it's in our syllabus!!
That really bears sarcasm amd irony..

18 November 2018 at 04:27

What is difference in a aaprsence between the bark and root of a tree

21 November 2018 at 03:33

I thought of it the same exact way
But of course my teacher is not as smart as us and has a totally different and stupid approach to it....

24 November 2018 at 08:07

Excellent poem

27 November 2018 at 03:26

Good poem

29 November 2018 at 07:57

He is being ironical in this poem. The poet says that killing a tree is just like killing our throat. The poem is a sarcastic one about man's indiscriminate destruction of trees. The tree is presented as an enemy to man. Man is presented as a professional killer who thinks of all possible ways to kill and torture the tree

2 December 2018 at 18:50

Long years of slavery could not destroy india as roots of ethics morals values principles and religion were embedded deep but it will get killed( uprooted) if we lose our ground ( roots)

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