The Trees Poem Summary by Adrienne Rich


The Trees by Adrienne Rich is a very deep, symbolic and multi-themed poem. If we go through the lines, we find that it is about trees which have been cut from the forests and rather grown in the houses (or even greenhouses) for decoration and need by humans.

However when we go deep into the words and understand the life history of the poet and the conditions of her time, we come to know that this poem is not about the trees but about women and even the transgenders who are socially backward.

In order to make the poet understand, we have written simple summary here and a critical analysis in a separate article. We will also discuss important questions and key-points on the forum. Let us begin with the simple summary of the poem.


Stanza 1

The poet says that the trees inside are moving out into the forest. The word ‘inside’ here means house or the lawn. In the very first line, we come to know that the trees were captured and enslaved but now they have got freedom and thus are moving to forest (which is their destination).

All these days (i.e. till now), the forest was empty. As there was no trees, no bird could sit, no insect could hide itself and the sun could not bury its feet in shadow. So, we get a picture of forest without trees.

The poet imagines that how the forest would be without the trees. As there are no trees, the birds cannot make nests on the branches, neither they can chirp. The insects also cannot get shelter without trees and the sun cannot cool itself in the shadow of the trees.

The poet now starts dreaming about the new morning. According to her, the forest was empty all these night (till now). However the next morning it will be full of trees.

Stanza 2

In the next stanza, the poet describes the struggle of the trees to free themselves. According to her, the roots of the trees kept working all nights (since long) to disengage themselves from the cracks in the veranda floor. In other words, the trees kept trying to escape from the the boundaries of the houses.

The leaves kept straining (pushing) towards the glass, small twigs (small branches) became stiff (hard) as they were continuously exerting (putting) pressure on the glass to free themselves.

The long-cramped (weak) boughs (branches) shuffle (kept crawling) under the roof (in the house) towards the forest. They look like half-dazed (half asleep) newly discharged patients moving towards the clinic doors (to go to the forest).

This is because they are weak as they were imprisoned in the four walls of house. Now they are moving towards the forest where they will heal and regain their energy as well as the true potential.

Stanza 3

For the first time, the poet brings in herself. According to her she is sitting inside the house and its doors open to the veranda (where the trees are struggling). She is writing long letters (i.e. poems as this one). However she does not mention the departure of the forest from the house.

In this stanza, we find many important things. First, the door of the room in which poet is sitting is opened. So, the poet is watching the trees trying to escape. Next, she is writing poems but does not mention this departure.

Perhaps, she is scared of revealing this truth or she does not seem to be surprised because she was sure that it will happen. Whatever might the case be, she refrain from writing down this movement of the trees.

Another thing worth noticing is that the poet calls “trees” as “forests” and not trees because all the trees have united with the same purpose i.e. escape from the four walls.

Next, the poet tells about the environment outside. According to her, the night is fresh and the whole moon shines (it is full moon) in a sky which is still open. In other words, the environment outside is welcoming the the trees. It is waiting for them to escape the room (which is a prison).

The poet feels as if the smell of leaves and lichen (algae) is reaching to her in the room like a voice. In other words, the poet feels that the outside world is asking her to join the escaping trees. Note that she was refraining from being a part of movement. However now, she is being requested to join them.

Stanza 4

In the final stanza, the poet hears whispers in her head which she believes will be silent by the next day. Here whispers depict the negative forces (which do not want the trees to escape) in her head. However by the next day the trees will have escaped and the negative voices will also stop.

The poet then asks the audience to listen the breaking of the glass. The trees have finally succeeded to break the prison. They are now stumbling (moving) forward into the night. The wind (which seems to be the supporter of this move of the trees), rushes to welcome and meet them.

Finally the trees have escaped. The moon which was seen shining full (in the 3rd stanza) is now broken like a mirror (because of the leaves and twigs of the trees which shatter its light).

The small broken pieces and the fragments of the moon flash (shine) in the crown of the tallest oak tree i.e. they look like a crown on the head of the oak tree. In other words, the trees have become the kings and thus the freedom has been achieved.

This was the simple summary of this poem. However, the poem means quite different from what we have explained above. It is about feminism, women emancipation and even for the transgenders. We have covered the deep analysis of this poem in this article.

Click here to read important questions and answers of this poem.