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In the previous article, we have discussed a simple summary of the poem The Trees. However in this article, we will cover the deep analysis of this poem. Before going through the words, we must have some background knowledge of the poet as well as the time when the poem was written.
Adrienne Rich was an American poet, essayist and feminist writer. However she preferred to use the term “women’s liberation” rather than feminism.
She was called “one of the most widely read and influential poets of the second half of the 20th century” (Nelson, Cary, editor. Anthology of Modern American Poetry. Oxford University Press. 2000.) She gave voice to the oppressed women and lesbians in her poetry.
Coming to the condition of her age, we should know that this poem was written in 1963 AD, a time when 2nd wave of feminism was dominating the social scenario. During this time, the women were taking part in social, political and even economic activities.
They started writing about female experiences in a male-dominating society. The writing of Rich was thus quite influenced by the 3rd wave of feminism.
Having said that, let us now go back to our poem The Trees. If we give it one reading, it will look like the poet is talking about trees, environment, deforestation, afforestation etc. However as a feminist writer, Rich seems to be concerned about women including lesbians.
According to the poet, the trees inside are moving out into the forest which was empty since long. Neither a bird could sit not an insect could hide itself. Moreover, the sun also could not cool itself in the shadow (as there are no trees).
The first line gives a glimpse of what the poet will discuss in the poem. The tree here personalises women including lesbians. The reason poet calls women as trees is that the women have been confined in the homes. They are not allowed to roam out freely. They seem to be like plants (fixed at one position).
Forest here symbolises outside world. The poet is of the view that the outside world is not only for men but all for women including the lesbians who are “othered” by the society.
Next, the poet says that the forest that was empty all these nights will be full of trees by morning. Here, the poet makes the picture of outside world without women. According to her, it was incomplete and now that women will be liberated, the forest will look full and complete.
In this stanza, the poet describes the long and continuous struggle of the women for liberation and freedom. According to her, all the night, the roots kept working to disengage themselves from the cracks in the veranda floor.
Roots constitute the base of trees. Here they probably symbolise voice of women which is courageous. The women are struggling to disengage (liberate) from cracks of the veranda floor. Veranda floor symbolises confinement and cracks refer to the breaking of the patriarchal notions.
Next, the poet throws more light on the movement. According to her, leaves are pushing the glass and small twigs have hardened with exertion (continuous struggle). The glass is also a symbol. It represents the patriarchy which is not visible yet hard enough to confine the women.
Leaves and twigs are symbols for the softness and weakness of the women. The poet is watching the women struggling though they are soft, weak and less mighty as compared to men. Yet, they keep the movement alive and become hard and strong.
Next, the poet describes the appearance of those who are struggling. According to her, they are long-cramped boughs (a large number of women) and they look like newly discharged patients who are now moving towards the clinic doors. They are half-dazed because they are still weak and are facing problems at every step.
Note how poet describes the struggle of women by using words like work, disengage, strain, stiff, shuffle, half-dazed yet moving.
In this stanza, the poet brings in herself for the first time. According to her, she is also sitting inside (means she is also confined) and the door of her room opens to the veranda (where the women were confined).
She is writing long letters (i.e. poetry). However she does not mention the departure (liberation) of the forest (all the women) from the house (confinement).
Notice how ironical are the lines. The poet calls women as forest and not trees because they are not individuals but a very large movement. Moreover the poet describes the space (where they were confined) as home.
I think, “home” is an oxymoron. It is not home in actual but prison made by patriarchal mindset which made the women to believe that they should always remain indoors. Now, as the women have recognised their actual place, the so-called home is not their home.
Next, the poet describes the environment outside which seems to be in favour of this movement. According to her, the night is fresh and the whole moon shines in a sky which is still open.
In these lines, two words “a sky” and “still” have been used which seem to be unusual because we cannot use a with sky and similarly, sky is always open, so the word still seems to be depicting something else.
I think, sky here depicts space (freedom) when was totally occupied by males. However it always desired for women. So, now that women are finally moving towards it, they are being welcomed.
Next, the poet says that the smell of leaves and lichen still reaches like a voice into the rooms. Leaves have been mentioned before as well (in stanza 2), so they refer to women. However, here, the poet also mentions lichen which is not truly a tree. And symbolically they may refer to those women who are socially not accepted i.e. the lesbians and even the transgenders.
So, here we find a voice for lesbians as well. the poet says that the smell (perhaps a voice) of these women are reaching to her and inviting her (the poet) to come out and join them because the poet is sitting in the veranda. The poet seems to be confused between the choices.
The poet says that her head is full of whispers which she believes would be silent by the next morning. Whispers here symbolise the negative forces which always confined the women and snatched away their freedom. But now that the movement is going to be successful, these whispers will also go away.
Suddenly the glass (imaginary patriarchal boundaries) starts breaking with the movement and the poet asks the audience and readers to listen to this breaking.
The trees (women) are now stumbling (moving with struggle) forward into the night. Here again, we find a play on the word night. In poetry night symbolises hopelessness, death, sorrow i.e. negative things. However here night is a positive thing. It is the new morning (a new norm formed by the freedom of women). There will be new rules and the old ones are going to be obsolete (out of date).
As the women finally move towards freedom, winds rush towards them to meet them. Wind here probably means spirit of the outside world. It also favours the freedom of women. Hence it comes forward to welcome them.
The moon seems to be broken like a mirror i.e. it looks shattered in pieces when its light travels through the leaves. Moreover the pieces now flash in the crown of the tallest oak tree.
These lines are again symbolic and profound. The moon is always seen as full. However here it is broken. Earlier it was the king but now it is a part of crown wore by oak tree (a female). These lines again depict the change in the society. The norms have been changed now.
Oak tree is described as tallest which means women have defeated the patriarchy and now ruling the space. Hence the poem ends in the victory of the movement.
Here are some important questions on the poem The Trees by Adrienne Rich