Class 9- “On Killing a Tree” Complete Analysis

On Killing a Tree

Summary, Line-by-Line Explanation and Extract Based Questions of the poem “On Killing a Tree” by Gieve Patel

Class 9- “On Killing a Tree” Complete Analysis

Gieve Patel

Gieve Patel (18 August 1940 – 3 November 2023) was an Indian poet, playwright, and practising physician. Known for his multifaceted career, Patel is a prominent figure in contemporary Indian literature. His poetry often explores themes of social issues, human relationships, and the complex interplay between nature and urban life.

With a unique blend of medical expertise and artistic expression, Gieve Patel has contributed substantially to the literary and visual arts, reflecting a diverse and insightful perspective on the human experience.

Also Read: Class 9- ‘The Snake Trying’, Class 9-‘A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal’

Summary “On Killing a Tree

‘On Killing a Tree’ by Gieve Patel is a poem that metaphorically explores the difficulty of destroying something that has grown over a long period, using the image of a tree. The poet emphasizes that merely cutting or chopping the tree is not enough; the tree’s resilience is described as it tries to regenerate and grow again. According to the poem, the real solution lies in uprooting the tree entirely, exposing its roots, and subjecting it to external elements like sun and air.

The poem vividly describes the process of killing a tree, highlighting the strength and tenacity of the natural world. It serves as a reflection on the destructive impact of human actions on nature and the necessity of addressing the root cause to bring about a lasting change.

Explanation (stanza wise)”On Killing a Tree

‘On Killing a Tree’ by Gieve Patel is a poem that metaphorically explores the difficulty and resilience of nature, using the act of killing a tree as a central image. The poem is divided into four stanzas, each depicting a stage in killing a tree and the challenges one faces.

Stanza 1:

The poet emphasises the time-consuming nature of killing a tree. A simple act, such as stabbing it with a knife, is insufficient. The tree has grown slowly, consuming the earth and drawing sustenance from sunlight, air, and water. The image of the tree’s “leprous hide” sprouting leaves suggests a gradual, organic growth.

Stanza 2:

The second stanza addresses the inadequacy of merely hacking and chopping at the tree. Even causing pain to the tree, symbolised by the bleeding bark, is not enough. The tree is resilient; despite wounds, it can heal and regenerate. Green twigs may emerge from the base, restoring the tree to its former size.

Stanza 3:

In this stanza, the poet introduces a more drastic measure to kill the tree. The focus shifts to the root, the essential source of the tree’s strength. The root must be uprooted entirely and pulled out from the earth. The poet uses vivid language such as “roped, tied” to emphasise the force required. The exposure of the tree’s source, described as “white and wet” and “most sensitive, hidden,” adds a layer of vulnerability to the tree.

Stanza 4:

The final stanza describes the aftermath of successfully uprooting the tree. The process involves scorching and choking the tree in the sun and air, causing it to brown, harden, twist, and wither. Using these harsh, desiccating terms suggests the finality of the act. Once these stages are completed, the killing of the tree is considered done.

To summarise, ‘On Killing a Tree’ is a metaphorical exploration of the resilience of nature and the challenging process one must undertake to destroy it. The poem uses the tree as a symbol of strength and persistence, requiring significant effort to be overcome.

Analysis “On Killing a Tree

‘On Killing a Tree’ by Gieve Patel is a powerful and symbolic poem that delves into the profound challenges of destroying a tree, using it as a metaphor for resilience and the enduring force of nature. The poem can be analysed in several key aspects:

Environmental Commentary:

Beyond the literal interpretation of the tree, the poem can be seen as a commentary on the destructive impact of human actions on the environment. It prompts readers to reflect on the consequences of deforestation and the need for responsible environmental stewardship.

Language and Imagery:

The poet employs vivid language and imagery, such as “leprous hide,” “curled green twigs,” and “white and wet,” to create a sensory and visual experience for the reader. These images enhance the emotional impact of the poem.

Time and Gradual Growth:

The poem emphasises the time it takes to kill a tree, highlighting its gradual growth. This mirrors nature’s gradual degradation and destruction, showing that it cannot be easily undone.


The tone of ‘On Killing a Tree’ is contemplative, reflective, and analytical. The poet does not employ an emotional or sentimental tone; the language has a detached and observational quality. The poet seems to be examining the process of killing a tree with a sense of seriousness and intellectual engagement. The tone becomes more assertive and determined as the poem progresses, especially when suggesting the necessity of drastic measures to uproot the tree.

There is also an underlying sense of environmental concern, and the tone becomes didactic when the poet addresses the consequences of human actions on nature. Using vivid imagery and descriptive language contributes to an instructive and thought-provoking tone. The poem’s tone is one of intellectual curiosity and a call to reflect on the complexities of nature and the impact of human intervention.


‘On Killing a Tree’ is a modern English poem under contemporary poetry. The poem was written in the latter half of the 20th century and reflects current and contemporary poetry’s themes, styles, and concerns.


  • The poem’s four-stanza structure provides a clear and organised framework for the poet to explore the stages and complexities of killing a tree.
  • The progression from the initial acknowledgement of the time-consuming nature to the act’s finality contributes to the metaphor’s logical development.
  • The free verse structure allows the poet to flexibly convey the themes and ideas, using vivid imagery and symbolism.
  • The structured yet free-flowing form of the poem contributes to its effectiveness in conveying a layered and thought-provoking message about the resilience of nature and the consequences of human actions.

Themes ‘On Killing a Tree‘: 

  1. Resilience and Tenacity: The poem vividly illustrates the tree’s ability to withstand superficial attacks. Its slow growth and capacity to regenerate, even from bleeding bark, symbolise the resilience and tenacity of nature.
  1. Destructive Power of Man: The poem can be seen as a commentary on human intervention and the often catastrophic impact of our actions on the environment. The tree represents nature, and the poet emphasises the difficulty in undoing the effects of human interference.
  1. Vulnerability and Hidden Strength: The exposure of the tree’s root, described as “white and wet” and “most sensitive, hidden,” adds a layer of vulnerability to the seemingly robust tree. This vulnerability contrasts with the outward strength and hints at hidden, inner strengths that may be overlooked.
  1. Environmental Awareness: The poem can be interpreted as a plea for environmental consciousness. It prompts readers to consider the consequences of human actions, particularly those that harm the natural world.

Symbolism ‘On Killing a Tree’

  1. The Tree:
  • Symbolism: The tree serves as the central and multifaceted symbol in the poem. It represents nature, strength, and life. The various stages of attempting to kill the tree symbolise broader themes such as the resilience of nature, the destructive impact of human actions, and the need for drastic measures to address deep-rooted issues.
  1. Bleeding Bark:
  • Symbolism: The bleeding bark symbolises the tree’s ability to heal and regenerate. Despite the wounds inflicted, the tree can recover, representing the resilience of nature. This also suggests the insufficiency of superficial actions in causing lasting harm.
  1. Scorching and Choking:
  • Symbolism: The final stages of scorching and choking symbolise human actions’ irreversible and definitive consequences. Once the tree is subjected to these processes, it withers and transforms, signifying the permanence of the impact.
  1. Leprous Hide:
  • Symbolism: The phrase “leprous hide” contributes to the imagery of the tree as a living entity with a textured, imperfect exterior. It suggests that even a seemingly robust and healthy exterior can conceal vulnerabilities and sensitivities.
  1. Green Twigs/Miniature Boughs:
  • Symbolism: The green twigs that rise from close to the ground represent the tree’s ability to regenerate and grow anew. They symbolise the persistent life force within the tree, even after attempts to harm it. This further emphasises the resilience of nature.

Line-by-Line Explanation ‘On Killing a Tree‘: 

Stanza 1:

  1. “It takes much time to kill a tree,” The poet starts by emphasising the time-consuming process of killing a tree, suggesting that it’s not an easy task.
  1. “Not a simple jab of the knife” Using a knife won’t be enough; the poet implies that it requires more effort and a more profound approach.
  1. “Will do it. It has grown” The tree has grown over time, and killing it won’t be a quick or straightforward action.
  1. “Slowly consuming the earth,” The tree has gradually taken nutrients from the soil over time, emphasising its long-term connection with the earth.
  1. “Rising out of it, feeding” The tree grows, drawing sustenance from the soil.
  1. “Upon its crust, absorbing” The tree takes nutrients from the earth’s surface.
  1. “Years of sunlight, air, water,” The tree has absorbed sunlight, air, and water over the years, highlighting its deep roots in the natural elements.
  1. “And out of its leprous hide” The tree is described as having a diseased or decaying outer layer.
  1. “Sprouting leaves.” Despite the negative description, the tree continues to grow and produce leaves.

Stanza 2:

  1. “So hack and chop” The poet suggests physically cutting the tree.
  1. “But this alone won’t do it.” Mere cutting won’t kill the tree; more must be done.
  1. “Not so much pain will do it.” The tree won’t succumb to pain alone.
  1. “The bleeding bark will heal” Even if the tree is wounded, it can recover.
  1. “And from close to the ground” New growth will emerge near the tree’s base.
  1. “Will rise curled green twigs,” New shoots or branches will develop.
  1. “Miniature boughs” Small branches will form.
  1. “Which if unchecked will expand again” If not stopped, these new growths will develop into a full-sized tree again.
  1. “To former size.” The tree will return to its original size.

Stanza 3:

  1. “No,”
  2. “The root is to be pulled out —” The poet introduces a more drastic measure, advocating for removing the root.
  1. “Out of the anchoring earth;” The root needs to be uprooted from the soil.
  1. “It is to be roped, tied,” The process involves securing the root with a rope or tie.
  1. “And pulled out — snapped out” The root should be forcefully pulled out, causing it to snap.
  1. “Or pulled out entirely,” the poet emphasises the need to obliterate the root.
  1. “Out from the earth-cave,” The root is described as being in a cave, reinforcing its connection to the earth.
  1. “And the strength of the tree exposed” By removing the root, the inner strength of the tree is revealed.
  1. “The source, white and wet,” The inner part of the root is described as being vulnerable and alive.
  1. “The most sensitive, hidden” The inner part of the root is sensitive and concealed.
  1. “For years inside the earth.” It has been hidden and developing for a long time within the earth.

Stanza 4

  1. “Then the matter” Refers to the subsequent steps in the process.
  1. “Of scorching and choking” Describes further actions to ensure the tree’s demise, involving exposure to harsh conditions.
  1. “In sun and air,”
  2. “Browning, hardening,”

Like exposing the tree to sunlight and air. Describes the changes in the tree’s appearance and texture as it suffers.

  1. “Twisting, withering,” Portrays the tree’s gradual deterioration.
  1. “And then it is done.” The process is complete, and the tree is effectively killed.

Literary Devices “On Killing a Tree

Question/Answers ‘On Killing a Tree‘: 

Textbook Question/Answers

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

A: According to the poet, a “simple jab of the knife” cannot kill a tree. The poet emphasises that killing a tree is time-consuming and that a mere jab of the knife is insufficient. The tree has grown slowly, consuming nutrients from the earth, and cutting it with a knife is not enough to eradicate it. The tree’s resilience and deep roots in the soil make it resistant to a simple, quick action like stabbing it with a knife. The subsequent stanzas of the poem explore the more intricate and drastic measures needed to kill a tree effectively.

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

A: The poem describes how the tree has grown to its full size by highlighting various words that suggest its life and activity. Here are the words from the poem that convey the tree’s growth and vitality:

  1. Slowly” – implies gradual growth over time.
  2. Consuming” – indicates the tree’s process of absorbing nutrients.
  3. Rising” – suggests upward growth and development.
  4. Feeding” – conveys the tree’s nourishment from the earth.
  5. Absorbing” – emphasises the tree taking in sunlight, air, and water.
  6. Sprouting” – describes the emergence of new growth.
  7. Leaves” – indicates the tree’s active process of foliage production.
  8. Grown” – signifies the tree’s maturation and enlargement.

These words collectively paint a picture of the tree’s dynamic life cycle, from its slow and steady growth to its consumption of resources, absorption of essential elements, and the continual process of sprouting leaves. The tree is portrayed as an active and vital entity, deeply connected to the natural elements that sustain its life.

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

A: The phrase “bleeding bark” refers metaphorically to the wounds inflicted upon the tree, particularly when it is subjected to cutting or chopping. The bark of a tree is its protective outer layer, and when the tree is wounded, it can ooze sap or other fluids, resembling bleeding.

The bleeding bark symbolises the resilience of the tree. Despite the inflicted wounds, the tree can heal itself. The bleeding is not a fatal injury but signifies the tree’s ability to recover and protect itself from harm. The poet suggests that the simple cutting or hacking, represented by the bleeding bark, is insufficient to kill the tree. The tree’s regenerative abilities, expressed through the healing of the bleeding bark, make it a formidable and persistent force in nature.

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

A: When the poet says “No” at the beginning of the third stanza, he rejects or negates the previously mentioned methods of attempting to kill the tree. The poet emphasises that the earlier strategies, such as hacking and chopping, causing the bark to bleed, and allowing new shoots to emerge, are ineffective in destroying the tree.

Q: What does “anchoring earth” and “earth cave” mean?

A: Anchoring Earth” refers to the strong, stabilising connection between the tree’s roots and the soil. The roots anchor the tree to the earth, providing stability and support. The use of “anchoring” suggests that the tree is firmly secured in the ground, emphasising the depth and strength of its root system.

Earth Cave“: The term “earth cave” is another metaphor for the soil or the ground in which the tree’s roots are embedded. The word “cave” implies an enclosed, hidden space beneath the surface. It underscores the idea that the roots are not only in contact with the earth but are almost sheltered or concealed within it. Using “cave” also adds a sense of mystery and depth to the underground environment where the tree sustains its sustenance.

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

A: The expression “the strength of the tree exposed” implies the poet’s call for a radical approach—uprooting the tree entirely. This action lays bare the core strength and life force hidden within the earth. The word “exposed” conveys the tree’s vulnerability when its roots, the source of resilience, are revealed. By advocating for uprooting, the poet emphasises the profound impact of disrupting the tree’s anchoring connection to the earth, symbolising the tree’s ultimate defeat and destruction.

Q: What finally kills the tree?

A: The final actions that lead to the tree’s death are described in the fourth stanza. The tree is ultimately killed through a process involving scorching and choking. The poet mentions subjecting the tree to harsh conditions in sun and air, causing the tree to brown, harden, twist, and wither. 

This intense and destructive treatment, likely representing a symbolic assault on the tree’s life forces, leads to its demise. The combination of scorching and choking, described in vivid terms, is the culmination of the poet’s suggested method to kill the tree effectively.

Extra Questions “On Killing a Tree“: 

Q: According to the first stanza, what is the process of killing a tree?

A: According to the first stanza, killing a tree is a gradual process that cannot be achieved with a simple knife jab. The tree has to be uprooted, and its growth, which involves consuming the earth and absorbing sunlight, air, and water, must be stopped.

Q: In stanza 2, why does the speaker emphasise that hacking and chopping alone won’t kill the tree?

A: The speaker emphasises that hacking and chopping alone won’t kill the tree because the bleeding bark will heal, and the tree will continue to grow. The poem suggests that more drastic measures are required to kill the tree effectively.

Q: What is the significance of pulling out the root, as mentioned in stanza 3?

A: Pulling out the root is significant because it symbolises a more decisive and thorough action to kill the tree. The root represents the source of the tree’s strength and life, and removing it exposes the tree’s vulnerability, making it easier to kill.

Q: Describe the process the speaker mentions in stanza 4 to complete the act of killing a tree.

A: In stanza 4, the speaker describes the process of scorching and choking the tree in the sun and air. This leads to the tree browning, hardening, twisting, and withering. The final result is the death of the tree.

Q: What does the phrase “white and wet” refer to in stanza 3?

A: The phrase “white and wet” in stanza 3 refers to the exposed root of the tree. It is described as the source, hidden for years inside the earth, and pulling it out exposes the sensitive and vulnerable part of the tree that needs to be destroyed to kill the tree.

Q: What does the poet mean by “leprous hide”?

A:leprous hide” metaphorically suggests that the tree’s outer layer or bark has become diseased or corrupted. This emphasises the tree’s vulnerability and the need for a comprehensive approach to kill it.

Q: Why does the speaker mention “curled green twigs”?

A: The speaker mentions “curled green twigs” in stanza 2 to highlight the tree’s regeneration ability. Even if the tree is cut or hacked, new growth in the form of miniature boughs will emerge. This emphasises the tree’s resilience and the challenge of eliminating it.

Q: What is the significance of the tree being described as having an “earth-cave”?

A: The phrase “earth-cave” symbolises the deep anchoring of the tree’s root within the earth. It highlights the difficulty of removing the root and the necessity of taking decisive action to uproot the tree completely.

Extract-Based Questions and Answers “On Killing a Tree“: 

Extract 1:

“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,”

Q1: Why does killing a tree require much time?

A1: Killing a tree is gradual because it has grown slowly, consuming the earth over time.

Q2: What is emphasised about using a simple jab of the knife to kill a tree?

A2: A simple knife jab is insufficient to kill a tree; it emphasises its resilience and the need for a more significant effort.

Q3: What does the tree do as it grows?

A3: The tree consumes the earth slowly, rising from it and feeding upon its crust.

Q4: What does the tree absorb during its growth?

A4: The tree absorbs years of sunlight, air, and water as it grows, sustaining itself from the environment.

Extract 2:

“So hack and chop

But this alone won’t do it.

Not so much pain will do it.”

Q1: What does the speaker suggest in “hack and chop”?

A1: The speaker suggests the physical action of cutting the tree but emphasises that it alone is insufficient to kill it.

Q2: Why won’t inflicting pain on the tree be effective?

A2: Mere pain to the tree or the person cutting it is not enough to kill the tree; it underlines its resilience.

Q3: What happens if the cutting needs to be more comprehensive?

A3: If the cutting is not comprehensive, the bleeding bark will heal, and new growth in green twigs will emerge.

Q4: What does the speaker imply about the need for a more thorough approach to killing a tree?

A4: The speaker implies that a more comprehensive approach is needed beyond physical cutting to prevent the tree from regenerating.

Extract 3:


The root is to be pulled out —

Out of the anchoring earth;

It is to be roped, tied,”

Q1: Why does the speaker reject the idea of just cutting the tree?

A1: The speaker rejects it because the tree’s root needs to be pulled out entirely from the anchoring earth for effective elimination.

Q2: What does the speaker recommend in dealing with the tree’s root?

A2: The speaker recommends removing the root by roping and tying it, emphasising the need for complete removal.

Q3: What is the significance of pulling the root out of the earth-cave?

A3: Pulling the root out exposes the tree’s strength, its source, which has been hidden and protected within the earth for years.

Q4: What does the speaker describe as the tree’s most sensitive and hidden part?

A4: The most sensitive and hidden part of the tree is its source, described as white and wet, concealed for years inside the earth.

Extract 4:

“Then the matter

Of scorching and choking

In sun and air,

Browning, hardening,

Twisting, withering,

And then it is done.”

Q1: What follows the process of pulling the tree’s root out?

A2: After pulling out the root, the process involves scorching and choking the tree in the sun and air.

Q2: What are the effects of scorching and choking on the tree?

A3: The effects include browning, hardening, twisting, and withering of the tree, leading to its eventual demise.

Q4: How does the speaker convey the finality of killing the tree?

A4: The speaker uses the phrase “And then it is done” to describe the irreversible nature of the tree-killing process.

Q4: What does the speaker emphasise about the completion of killing a tree?

A4: The speaker emphasises that the process involving scorching and choking results in the definitive end of the tree’s existence.

Q5: What is the significance of the terms “twisting” and “withering” in the context of killing a tree?

A5: Twisting” and “withering” describe the final stages of the tree’s deterioration, highlighting its demise’s physical and visual effects.

Extract 5:

“Upon its crust, absorbing

Years of sunlight, air, water,

And out of its leprous hide

Sprouting leaves.”

Q1: What imagery does the speaker use to describe the tree’s outer layer?

A2: The speaker uses the term “leprous hide” to describe the tree’s outer layer, suggesting a diseased or damaged appearance.

Q2: What is the significance of the tree sprouting leaves?

A2: Despite the harsh description of the tree, it continues to grow and regenerate by sprouting leaves, emphasising its vitality.

Q3: How does the tree interact with its environment during its growth?

A3: The tree consumes and absorbs environmental elements, such as sunlight, air, and water, contributing to its gradual growth.

Q4: What does the image of leaves sprouting suggest about the tree’s life cycle?

A4: The image of leaves sprouting implies the cyclical nature of the tree’s life, demonstrating its ability to renew and sustain itself.

Extract 6:

“The bleeding bark will heal

And from close to the ground

Will rise curled green twigs,”

Q1: Why is the healing of the bleeding bark a concern in killing a tree?

A1: The healing of the bleeding bark is a concern because it indicates the tree’s ability to recover and regenerate, making it challenging to kill.

Q2: What follows the healing of the bleeding bark?

A2: After healing, curled green twigs will rise from close to the ground, representing new growth and the tree’s resilience.

Q3: How does the speaker convey the persistence of the tree’s life force?

A3: The speaker emphasises that even after cutting and bleeding, the tree’s life force persists, emphasising the emergence of green twigs.

Q4: What is the significance of the twigs rising close to the ground?

A4: The proximity to the ground suggests that new growth can emerge from a low point, emphasising the tree’s ability to regenerate from a vulnerable position.

Extract 7:

“And the strength of the tree exposed

The source, white and wet,

The most sensitive, hidden

For years inside the earth.”

Q1: Why is exposing the tree’s strength emphasised in killing it?

A1: Exposing the tree’s strength is crucial as it reveals the source of its vitality, making it easier to target and eliminate.

Q2: How does the speaker characterise the exposed source of the tree?

A2: The exposed source is described as “white and wet,” highlighting its vulnerability and sensitivity after being concealed for years.

Q3: What does “roped, tied” signify when pulling out the root?

A3:Roped, tied” suggests a methodical and secure process of extracting the root, emphasising the need for careful and complete removal.

Q4: Why does the speaker refer to the root as “snapped out”?

A4: The term “snapped out” conveys a forceful and decisive action, underlining the necessity of obliterating the root for effective tree killing.

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