On Killing a Tree Summary By Gieve Patel

On Killing a Tree Summary By Gieve Patel


A General Note

Gieve Patel is an Indian author, writing in English poetry and plays. He is a painter, too. What is more, he is a practising physician.


A Biographical Sketch

Gieve Patel was born in 1940 in Mumbai. He was educated at St. Xavier’s High School and Grant Medical College, Mumbai. He lives in Mumbai where he is a general medical practitioner. He is an Indian author practising English writingpoetry and plays. His poetical works include poems that first launched by Nissim Ezekiel followed by How Do You Withstand, Body and Mirrored Mirroring. His plays include Princes, Savaksa and Mr Behram.

Patel also exhibited for the Contemporary Indian Art, Grey Art Gallery, New York, 1985, Indian Art from the Herwitz

collection Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts, 1985 and ‘Coups de Coeur’ Geneva, 1987.

He has been conducting a poetry workshop in Rishi Valley School for over more than a decade. His latest collection of poetry was published in 2006.

An Introductory Note

On Killing a Tree is included in Patel’s first poetical volume Poems published by the celebrated poet Nissim Ezekiel in 1966. This is the first poem of the book, containing 24 poems.


‘On Killing a Tree’, as a title, no doubt, is a meaningful one. It indicates the process of the killing of a tree by human efforts. The poem actually speaks of such a process. It lays down how far this is long, tiresome and intricate to complete and attain the end. Of course, the poem ends with the success of this hard, continuous and cumbrous work

“And then it is done.’

That is to say that the killing of the tree is completed thereafter.

There seems, however, a misnomer in the use of the word ‘killing’. This word ‘killing’ be safely used in the case of a man or any beast or bird. ‘To kill’ is hard to hear in connection with a tree. The use of the word ‘destruction’ is definitely more sensible or may appropriate.

Has then the poet deliberately used a wrong word? Definitely ‘not’. The poet has a distinct purpose. The word ‘kill’ implies a sort of cruelty. The human effort of destroying the wood or deforestation is a bitter act of human cruelty by its very beneficiary, the entire human race. The title, ironically used, is deeply meaningful and appropriate.


completely Different According to the poet, it is no easy task to cut a tree. After all, this has grown, slowly and steadily, from earth, consuming all natural resources. A sharp blow of a knife I can never put at a permanent end to it. In fact, hard efforts and long hours are required to do the same. natural elements have helped and strengthened its growth The repeated blows from a wood-cutter will never be able to destroy the tree.

The tree may be wounded and hurt, here and there, but everything will be healed up in course of time. This will have the fresh growth from what is partly cut and damaged. Hence, what is needed in the matter is to root out the tree altogether from its earthly bed. Its source of strength is earth. So it is to be tied tightly by trong rope and pulled out of earth with all its roots. A big cave on earth will, of course, be formed thereby. Finally, the uprooted tree is to be burnt, turned brown, hardened, twisted and withered. This is how the act of killing a tree can be safely concluded. some s


Critical Appreciation

Gieve Patel’s poem ‘On Killing a Tree’ deals with a serious theme of modern times. This is deforestation. In his unchecked craze to extend his civilization and amenities On Killing a Tree.

The poet has used the term to expose how foolishly and cruelly man goes for deforestation  in a ceremonious way. OF course, his sarcastic views at this human attitude is subtly borne out.

The poem is to be praised for the picturesque details given by the poet about human enterprises and efforts to kill a tree. Even the processes, after the total uprooting of the tree, is clearly and precisely shown in subsequent lines

Then the matter

Of scorching and choking In sun and air,

Browning, hardening,

Twisting, withering,

And then it is done.

Of course, the poem has a message-a two-fold message. The first one is direct-man’s senseless cruelty and inhumanity on a tree that has a life force from earth. This strikes at yet exposed human savagery. The other one is indirect. This is afforestation for human preservation and future check of natural imbalance .

The poem has four stanzas-(i) two of nine lines; (ii) one of eleven lines and (iii) one of six lines only.

The poem is written in free verse.

Analysis (Thematic and Structural) 


The tree has its root in the deep soil of the earth. It gathers its strength and force from the diverse  natural elements. It absorbs water and air and sunlight to frame its strong body and plentiful leaves. So it is not easy task to destroy a tree. 


A tree cannot be cut down and killed by the mere blows of axes and strokes of knives. It recovers quickly from whatever wounds may be inflicted on it by human efforts.

[Stanza -3]

 In fact, to destroy a tree, it is to be uprooted from its origin into the earth. Thereafter a big gap is left on the earth by the side of the fallen tree. 


 Thereafter, men resort to different means of scorching, choking, browning, hardening, twisting and withering to have the total end the tree.


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