The Heart of the Tree
Henry Cuyler Bunner
From time immemorial, there is an all-embracing attachment of man with Nature, particularly, his dependence on trees. Trees are essential for his survival. However, as time passed man’s attitude to Nature, and to trees, were inimical
and disastrous. There has been massive deforestation because of our greed for agricultural land and timber and necessity of cheap fuel. This large-scale deforestation remains, even today, a menace to the biodiversity of our environment.
In our times, it is significant that we comprehend our role in preserving the balance of the environment in Nature for our own benefit and survival. We should review our stance towards Nature where we realise the importance of the trees. Trees are of great importance to man in all spheres of his life. The planting of a tree is not merely a mechanical action but an act of personal, social and global import. The planting of a tree is a gesture that proclaims one’s intention to serve humanity since the tree benefits not only the individual that plants it but also the society and, in a wider scheme of things, the humanity. In the poem The Heart of the Tree, the poet Henry Cuyler Bunner presents the beneficial aspects of planting a tree both to the person who plants a tree and to the society and, overall, to the humanity. The poem not only appreciates the action of planting a tree but also honours the heart of a person who does this noble and benevolent act.
The poem consists of three stanzas of nine lines each and all the three stanzas begin with a question and the poet himself gives the answer to the question. The poem with its simple and vivid use of diction has an attractive rhyme scheme ababbccaa for each stanza. The meticulous choice of words coupled with the rhyming lines gives the poem an alluring musical quality. The repetition of the same question as a refrain in the beginning of each stanza of the poem is a poetic technique, known as Hypophora, employed by the poet to accentuate the theme of the poem to his readers.
Hypophora also referred to as Anthypophora, is a figure of speech in which the speaker poses a question and then he himself answers the question. It is different from a Rhetorical question where the answer is implied or not necessary. (A Rhetorical question usually has an obvious answer but you have asked the question to make a point, to persuade or for literary effect.)
The poem begins with a question – What does he plant who plants a tree? – that delivers the spirit of the whole poem, that is, the worth of planting a tree and the rest of the stanza is the poet’s answer to the question the significance and value of planting a tree.
A plant grows upwards as if it aspires to get in touch with the sun and the sky so that they get a new friend in a tree. Moreover, the tree needs sunlight and air to stay alive. Also, the trees appear to soak up the heat and relieve the earth from the sweltering sun.
The poet now says that by planting a tree, man plants a flag that flies freely in the gentle breeze. The poet here compares the leafy branches of the tree to a flag and the trunk of the tree to the splendid shaft or pole of the flag that remains firm and tall.
A tree also becomes a home for the birds singing melodiously high in the sky, close to heaven. Hence, by planting a tree, man renders the earth inhabitable for birds and facilitates in the conservation of the environment. In the serene and joyful twilight, man hears the symphonic song of these birds that twitter in harmony to the melody of the heaven.
Thus, in the first stanza of the poem, the poet highlights the significance of trees in sustaining the splendour of nature. The choice of the words such as ‘heaven anigh’, ‘heaven’s harmony’ and ‘towering high’ emphasises that the action of planting a tree is certainly a blissful and glorious deed.