Poetry Study Aid: 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 progressed man’s attitude to Nature, and trees, were inimical and disastrous. There has been massive deforestation because of our greed for agricultural land and timber and the 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 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 at 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 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 words such as ‘heaven anigh’, ‘heaven’s harmony’ and ‘towering high’ emphasizes that the action of planting a tree is certainly a blissful and glorious deed.
The poet begins with the same question – What does he plant who plants a tree? -he had asked in the first stanza and proceeds to explain the motive behind the planting of a tree.
The tree man plants gives us comforting shade and aids to bring rain. In future, the tree will yield seed and bud. Even after the inevitable passage of many years, the tree will remain where it is planted through its seeds producing new trees. Trees enhance the beauty of an unattractive and dull expanse of land with its green foliage and colourful blossom. Hence, the trees are ‘the glory of the plain’. Furthermore, a tree planted today may transform into a forest with the passage of time and hence, by planting a tree now man plants a ‘forest’s heritage’. The poet says that planting a tree today would give fruits in future the coming generations. Our next generations will be able to enjoy its delightful benefits.
In this stanza, the poet makes us realise the importance of planting a tree for making our earth a better place to live for the coming generations.
By planting a tree, man displays his devotion and affection towards his precious abode, the earth. Planting of the trees is also a fulfilment of his social obligations since his action contributes to the growth of his nation and ultimately to the world that he inhabits. The process of advancement of his country germinates from the forward-looking idea in man’s heart that plants a tree.
The capitalization in ‘His’ by the poet almost gives a divine status to man who plants a tree because he has the power and faculty to alter the destiny not only of his neighbourhood and nation but also in an indirect way, the whole of humanity. The concluding lines of the poem stress the significance of man’s heart, his feelings, dreams and aspirations behind planting a tree.