Tuesday 15 July 2014

On killing a tree and related thoughts

Long ago, in one of the poetry sessions, I cringed and squirmed at the detailed killing of a tree as depicted in Gieve Patel's poem, "On Killing a Tree" but today unwittingly I was party to killing a tree in our garden. A semi-grown nearly matured sweet-lime tree it was but sadly my lack of knowledge coupled with my domestic help's insistence, I sought a gardener and asked him to chop the sweet-lime tree. All was well until my husband roused from his slumber and followed the scene of the 'action' disturbed by the sounds. His look of dismay and choice words of admonition, nearly shook and unnerved me. It seemed quite unforgivable. Being a meat eater and watching live chickens being killed did not evoke such passion in me as the incident today. Even now as I recollect the bright green leaves and the threatening thorns of the tree, my mind fills with shame and sadness. I wonder why this should shake me and not the ghastly killing of chickens and goats and all that I consume. Perhaps it is the thought of having seen the tree everyday for almost eighteen months, watering it and at times talking to it while standing next to it while watering the plant. Perhaps it is an emotional response than a plantarian (Like humanitarian. My own coinage) one.




I mourn the loss and go on to dream of a supper of chicken curry and bread.

Leaving you with Gieve Patel's "On Killing a Tree"

On Killing a Tree

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.

(From POEMS, published by Nissim Ezekiel, Bombay 1966)


  1. the tree i remember most was a large tree at the edge of my parents property...it was old when i was born...and about 3 years ago they took it out...i t was huge...they had a company come and remove it...inside they found the remains of burrows and nests....it was def a sad moment for me.

    1. Burrows and nests . . . if my tree has anything like that I would have never ever forgiven me. I hear you and your sadness.

  2. oh dear! It's probably because a tree supports so many other lives that we have a visceral reaction to cutting it down!

    1. I guess so Rosh. A tree is so many things - home, symbol of an everlasting bond, food, etc.

  3. Nissim Ezekiel one of my fav poets from school and Susannah do u remember that poem Night Of The Scorpion well i was remembering it just too well too because recently i was stung by a bee. Unwittingly i had driven my hands into a hive. And just like he has written in his poem i had also said Thank God the bee stung me and had spared my son/ husband. Brilliant poem even that one.
    Wonder why u got that tree cut. Here i am who keeps planting her cuttings and making many out of one and there you are cutting and chopping one green that you have. Sry didn't mean to admonish you not after you've already had enough from your husband and now you going on that guilt trip. Okay let bygones be bygones and tell you what the best way to get over is by planting another one. How about that. Nurture it well...see it grow...prolly you'll get over the sad bad feeling and who knows just like me you might start getting more of life's better learning through that. Really not all learning comes from books...trust me i have learnt that they come from planting and going through the routines associated with it...
    Of late you've stopped visiting me...i have gained in my knowledge through this that i am doing...of life and other aspects associated with life. But of course plants fascinate me true...but why don't you try...try and see...in any case time will take care but who knows you might achieve even more than just solace. Pls visit me sometime. The blogpost comment box kind of misses you...

    1. Dear Shivani: Each time you comment here, I feel honoured thinking of the time and detail spent by you and at the same time, I also feel sad for not being able to return the favour when you request the same. And yes, even we studied that poem in our school. There are many weeds and jungle shrubs which make an appearance in the monsoon and the gardeners here periodically cut and trim them. But this tree, as perceived by my domestic and the gardener was a jungle tree which would destroy all the other trees/plants around and so when they asked me, I agreed. Naive, I know. And yes, every incident provides a fodder for thought and a lesson in hindsight.

      I shall stop by soon and thanks for your visit. Big hugs and much love to you.

  4. The poem is so so sad and heartbreaking....n Brian's above comment got my stomach to churn! :(

    1. Aditi, when I first read the poem, it haunted me for quite some time - As Roshni mentions, the feeling is so visceral.

  5. that is sad .. I remember when i had shifted into a new house it had about dozen trees in the backyard , no one had cared for the yard for years and it was mess , no sunlight so i had to cut a few of those trees ..

    But It is so sad when we need to do that , we are destroying nature for sure ..

    Take care , I too have come to your blog after a long time .. How are you doing .. Remember me :)


    1. What a question, Bikram. Of course I remember you. Are you back in India? I tried commenting on your blog but couldn't. Hope you are doing well and happy. The tree cutting was a naive accident and I so wish that I could reverse it. Thanks for seeking me and commenting here, Bikram. Much appreciated.

  6. Perhaps you could plant a few flowering plants or a sapling or just bury a mango seed or guava and let Nature takes its course of action :)

    1. I will Mahesh. Thanks. How have you been? Hope everything is going on well with you.

    2. Thanks Susan :) all is well by the grace of God :)



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