The Heart of the Tree by Henry Bunner; Summary & Analysis

Introduction

Poet Henry Cuyler Bunner paints a picture of trees and the gifts that they provide us. In a very serene and simple poem, he questions humanity regarding some tough issues.

*The repetition of a question is a poetic technique, known as Hypophora, employed by the poet to emphasize the theme of the poem to his readers.

Hypophora or Anthypophora is a figure of speech in which the writer presents a question and then follows with an answer. On the other, a Rhetorical question is a question where the answer is implied or not necessary.

Stanza 1

What does he plant who plants a tree?
He plants a friend of sun and sky;
He plants the flag of breezes free;
The shaft of beauty towering high;
He plants a home to heaven anigh;
For song and mother-croon of bird
In hushed and happy twilight heard—
The treble of heaven’s harmony—
These things he plants who plants a tree.

The poem starts with a simple question and that in the very next line the poet presents an answer. He answers that tree as they grow to become friends with the sun and the sky and so planting a tree is like making harmonious friends with other elements of nature.

The poet then goes on to compare trees as flags flying freely in strong breezes like towering shafts of beauty and strength. As the stem of a tree grows it resembles a formidable and majestic tower that reaches the sky.

As trees provide nesting space for birds so by planting trees we provide them home and in return hear their beautiful songs of praise for nature and environment. We are captivated by the melodies the serenading birds at twilight.

The entire stanza emphasizes the benefits of the trees in providing overall harmony to nature which he compares to heavenly peace. Bunner ascribes goodness to the act of planting trees.

Stanza 2

What does he plant who plants a tree?
He plants cool shade and tender rain,
And seed and bud of days to be,
And years that fade and flush again;
He plants the glory of the plain;
He plants the forest’s heritage;
The harvest of a coming age;
The joy that unborn eyes shall see—
These things he plants who plants a tree.

The second stanza also starts with the same question and similarly it follows by the poet’s answer. Bunner says that the trees give us with cool shades and soft rain to provide us relief from the unbearable heat of the sun.

He beautifully narrates the cycle of regrowth as the tree provides seed and bud which develop into new trees. This process leaves an indelible imprint of nature. The poet further describes trees as ‘the glory of the plain’ meaning they provide the plains with green and beauty.

He says if we plant a tree now it will blossom into a future forest which he calls a ‘heritage of forest’. He calls planting trees today will ensure we have a “harvest for future age and people to come” which our future generation will benefit from.

Bunner points to that fact that we have all these trees to admire only because people before us decided to plant trees for the present age to reap the benefits from them. The poet implicitly makes an appeal to trees in order to make the world a better place for future generations to come.

Stanza 3

What does he plant who plants a tree?
He plants in sap and leaf and wood,
In love of home and loyalty
And far-cast thought of civic good—
His blessings on the neighborhood,
Who in the hollow of His hand
Holds all the growth of all our land—
A nation’s growth from sea to sea
Stirs in his heart who plants a tree.

Bunner equates planting trees to displaying your love and respect for your society and humanity. It serves a human being’s civic responsibilities and duty towards the environment. By ‘sap and leaf and wood’ the poet illustrates that all these blessings are present in every part of the tree.

The capitalized ‘His’ highlights that the planting of a tree shows a level of sensitivity and benevolence. It brings a level of importance to the trees and their role in creating a prosperous future for mankind.

Planting a tree is part of building a nation and society and ensuring its progress from “sea to sea”. The thought behind the act of planting a tree is truly good and progressive.

Key Thoughts

Henry Cuyler Bunner, thus, writes a unique appeal through his unconventional but simple poem, The Heart of the Tree’. The poem praises the satisfaction one gets in planting a tree. The various elements of nature like the sky, sun and wind also are in true friendship with trees.

With shade and rain trees bring comfort to people and animals. Therefore, one who plants trees brings joy and blessings to the neighbourhood, society, and environment.

There is a strong relationship between men and trees and for our survival, we need to ensure that the trees keep growing like beautiful towers that reach the sky.