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The Trees (poem)

Question 4:

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?

Answer:

(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 s…

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