Now that you have read the poem in detail, we can begin to ask what the poem might mean. Here are two suggestions. Can you think of others?
(i) Does the poem present a conflict between man and nature? Compare it with A Tiger in the Zoo. Is the poet suggesting that plants and trees, used for ‘interior decoration’ in cities while forests are cut down, are ‘imprisoned’, and need to ‘break out’?
(ii) On the other hand, Adrienne Rich has been known to use trees as a metaphor for human beings: this is a recurrent image in her poetry. What new meanings emerge from the poem if you take its trees to be symbolic of this particular meaning?
(i) Yes, the poem presents a conflict between man and nature. While nature is more free and unbounded, man prefers to live in bounded spaces and also wants to curb nature. He uses plants for interior decoration of houses, cuts trees to make a house for himself, kills animals for food or other purposes and cages them in zoos. In all these ways, man curbs nature and denies plants and animals the freedom in which they should live. The poem shows that trees and plants are rebelling against man as they strive to work their way out into the open. For instance, in the poem A Tiger in the Zoo, the poet presents the fact that animals feel bounded by cages. They can only take a few steps inside the cage, whereas they really want to run and leap into the open. This signifies the fact that plants and animals feel caged by humans and want to break out from the imprisonment at the hands of humans.
(ii) If trees are symbolic of human beings, then it could be said that humans too want to break away from the shackles of the busy and selfish lives they lead. They also want to go out into the nature and be free. They work all day and sometimes all night to try and achieve something though they do not have the time to enjoy it. They keep striving hard in their routines as they feel cramped under the roofs of their homes and offices. Even they want to break free and go out into the peaceful nature.