Summary of On Killing a Tree by Gieve Patel

Here is the complete summary of On Killing a Tree by Gieve Patel with the simple analysis of the poem, symbolical elements and literary style. To get the full understanding of the poem On Killing a Tree, read the full article.

Summary of On Killing a Tree by Gieve Patel
Summary of On Killing a Tree by Gieve Patel



‘On Killing a Tree’ which got first publication in ‘Poems’ by Nissim Ezekiel in l966. The poet has used free verse without much flair or traditional poetic devices or rhetorical expressions. The style is simple straightforward and conversational. The poetry of British librarian-poet Phillip Larkin with simple unassuming style influenced Gieve Patel very much.

Gieve Patel who is a practising physician and the literary world remembers him as ‘a poet of body parts’ as many of his poems deal with the description of particular body limbs revealing him  an accomplished painter.

On Killing a Tree’ by Gieve Patel reflects a graphic picture of man’s inhuman attitude towards Nature. Man annihilates trees indiscriminately.


Summary of On Killing a Tree by Gieve Patel


The poem begins with an ironical tone. It is not easy to kill a tree. A mere jab of knife cannot kill a tree. It has thrived well, absorbing sunlight, air and water for years. It gets nutrients from the earth’s crust. Even a tree cannot be killed by only hacking or chopping. Cruel man chops a tree mercilessly. As a result, it feels severe death.

Nature plays a great role in healing its wounds. It has a resilient and superior life force. The poet mockingly expresses that a calculated method has to be adapted to execute a tree.

It’s roots are the most sensitive part and we should uproot a tree from the earth cave and expose them to sunlight for withering. Gradually ts roots become brown and hard and the tree will finally meet its death.

  The poem On Killing a Tree’ is a fine example of free verse. It shows how man’s suicidal and perverted attitude will destroy the environment. This realistic picture shows colour in every detail, fine imagery, logical sequence, conversational ease and a pain. But it does not deep sarcasm. 

Summary of On Killing a Tree by Gieve Patel


Gieve Patel has shown keen observational power and symbolism in this poem. For example our attention draws towards the contrasting features of the tree’s physical existence in expressions like ‘leprous hide’ signifying rough exterior and toughness of bark and the source, white and wet’ hinting at the softness and the secrecy of its root. Contrasts at more symbolical level have are here. The ancient Romans envisaged nature both as a creator and destroyer-Quod mi nutrit, me destruit (that which nurtures me, destroys me).

In the first stanza of ‘On Killing a Tree’, we find that the tree absorbs years of air and sunlight and thrives. In the concluding part of the poem tells us that the root of the tree remains open for the air and the sunlight to choke and scorch. So air and sunlight are both the nurturer and the destroyer of the tree.

The poet has used two beautiful metaphors in the expressions ‘anchoring earth’ and the ‘earth cave’. In the first metaphor we have a comparison with a boat or a ship anchoring on a river or ocean-bed and gaining security in its existence. In the second expression we have the suggestion of shelter which has been provided for ages by the cave, or a hollow inside a hill.

The poet has used words quite meaningfully in the poem. The single-word line ‘No’ meaningfully divides the two distinct sections of the poem, namely, the growth and the resilience of a tree and its ruthless killing. From the consideration of its unique features, it is truly a modern poem with realistic message and modern diction and style. 

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