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The Trees by Adrienne Rich: Explanation | CBQs | NCERT Solution

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

Historical Perspectives, Stanza-Wise Explanation & Competency-Based Questions


Lesson Architecture

  • Historical Perspectives

  • Theme

  • Stanza-wise Explanation

  • NCERT Solution CBQs


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Historical Perspectives


  • "The Trees" by Adrienne Rich was published in 1978 as part of her collection "The Dream of a Common Language."

  • To understand the historical context of the reference to women in the poem, it's important to consider the feminist movement of the time and Rich's own involvement in feminist discourse.

  • The late 1960s and 1970s were a period of significant social change in the United States and around the world.

  • This era marked the height of the second wave feminist movement, which focused on issues such as women's rights, gender equality, reproductive rights, and challenging traditional gender roles.

  • The movement aimed to address systemic inequalities that women faced in various aspects of life, including education, employment, and personal autonomy.

  • Adrienne Rich was an active participant in this feminist movement, and her poetry often reflects the concerns, aspirations, and challenges of women during this time.

  • "The Trees" can be seen as a reflection of the broader feminist struggle for empowerment, liberation, and the rejection of societal norms that constrained women's agency and self-expression.

  • The historical context of the poem, within the context of the feminist movement, adds depth to the interpretation of this phrase and highlights the larger themes of gender, identity, and societal transformation that Rich was engaging with in her poetry.

Theme

  • The core theme of "The Trees" by Adrienne Rich is transformation, growth, and liberation.

  • The poem uses vivid imagery of trees moving from an enclosed space to an open forest to symbolize a profound journey of change and liberation.

  • The trees in the poem represent both individual and collective experiences of breaking free from constraints, embracing authenticity, and undergoing a transformative process.

  • Throughout the poem, Rich emphasizes the idea of movement, both physical and metaphorical, as the trees disengage from their confined space and venture into the open forest. This movement signifies a shift from stagnation to vitality, from limitation to freedom.

  • The imagery of roots working to disengage from cracks and leaves straining toward the glass conveys the effort and determination required for this transformation to occur.

  • The theme of liberation is also evident in the comparison of the trees to "newly discharged patients" moving to clinic doors. This analogy suggests a sense of vulnerability, uncertainty, and hope as the trees transition from confinement to a new phase of existence.

  • Overall, the core theme of the poem is about embracing change, overcoming limitations, and stepping into a state of greater authenticity and growth. The poem's imagery and symbolism invite readers to reflect on their own journeys of transformation and the challenges and rewards that come with breaking free from societal norms and personal constraints.



Stanza-Wise Explanation

Lines 1-7

The trees inside are moving out into the forest,

the forest that was empty all these days

where no bird could sit

no insect hide

no sun bury its feet in shadow

the forest that was empty all these nights

will be full of trees by morning.


Explanation:


In these lines, the poet is talking about a big change happening in the trees. The trees are compared to being inside a small space, like a building or a place made by people. But now, they are moving out into the open forest. This movement means they are growing, changing, and becoming free.


The forest used to be described as "empty all these days" and nights, but now something is going to happen to change that. It was a place with no life or action, where birds couldn't rest, bugs couldn't hide, and even the sun couldn't make shadows. This emptiness shows things not moving or changing, which is different from what is going to happen soon.


The words show that the trees are making the forest alive again. By moving out, they are making the land fresh and strong. The change is shown as a kind of restart, where the once empty forest will soon be full of life and energy, especially in the morning.


Glossary


The trees inside are moving out

  • The trees inside a house are moving out because the forest has been empty for a while as the trees were grown in confinement of a house.

no sun bury its feet in shadow

  • In this line, the speaker is describing the forest as a place where even the sun's rays are unable to cast shadows because there were no trees.

  • This imagery emphasizes the lack of life, movement, and vitality in the forest, highlighting its barren and stagnant nature.

the forest that was empty all these nights

will be full of trees by morning.

  • Throughout the night, the trees are exerting effort to free themselves from the confines of the house.

  • By the break of dawn, they will have successfully migrated to the forest, where they will find their new home.



Lines 8-10


"All night the roots work

to disengage themselves from the cracks

in the veranda floor."


Explanation:

Here, the poet describes the process of the trees breaking free from their constraints. The roots of the trees are working tirelessly all night to disentangle themselves from the cracks in the veranda floor. This can be interpreted as a metaphor for overcoming limitations, both physical and metaphorical, to achieve growth and liberation.


The cracks in the veranda floor may symbolize the barriers or obstacles that have confined the trees. The roots' efforts to disengage from these cracks imply a determined and persistent struggle for freedom and growth.


Glossary:


to disengage themselves from the cracks

  • The phrase "to disengage themselves from the cracks" from "The Trees" by Adrienne Rich refers to the roots of the trees working to break free from the fissures or gaps in the veranda floor.

  • This action symbolizes the trees' struggle to overcome limitations and constraints, reflecting their determination to escape confinement and embrace a transformative journey.

  • The phrase underscores the theme of growth, liberation, and the effort required to achieve change.

Lines 11-16


"The leaves strain toward the glass

small twigs stiff with exertion

long-cramped boughs shuffling under the roof

like newly discharged patients

half-dazed, moving

to the clinic doors."


Explanation:


In these lines, the poet employs vivid imagery to convey the trees' movement and effort. The leaves are described as straining toward the glass, suggesting a strong desire to break free and reach the outside world. The small twigs and long-cramped boughs are portrayed as stiff and exerting themselves, emphasizing the physical exertion and determination of the trees to achieve their transformation.


The comparison to "newly discharged patients" moving to clinic doors adds a layer of complexity to the imagery. It suggests a sense of vulnerability, uncertainty, and yet hopeful progress. The trees, like patients leaving a medical facility, are cautiously and perhaps hesitantly making their way toward a new phase of existence.


Overall, these lines convey a sense of dynamic change, growth, and struggle as the trees work to break free from confinement, bring life to a barren landscape, and embrace their newfound freedom in the forest. The imagery evokes a mix of anticipation, effort, and transformation, inviting readers to contemplate the broader themes of renewal and liberation.


Glossary


The leaves strain toward the glass

  • The line "The leaves strain toward the glass" from "The Trees" by Adrienne Rich describes how the leaves of the trees are reaching and stretching toward the glass windows or walls of the house.

  • It symbolizes their eagerness to break free from their enclosed space and connect with the external world.

  • This imagery captures the trees' yearning for liberation and growth, emphasizing their determination to overcome limitations and embrace change.


small twigs stiff with exertion

long-cramped boughs shuffling under the roof


  • The lines "small twigs stiff with exertion" and "long-cramped boughs shuffling under the roof" from describe the physical effort of the branches and twigs as they strive to break free from their confined space.

  • The "small twigs" are tense and rigid from their exertion, while the "long-cramped boughs" are shifting uneasily under the roof, suggesting a struggle to overcome confinement and embrace a new phase of growth and freedom.

  • These phrases emphasize the determination and physical strain involved in the trees' transformation, reinforcing the poem's themes of change and liberation.


like newly discharged patients

half-dazed, moving

to the clinic doors.


  • The doors of the house are compared to clinic or hospital doors.

  • The trees are like patients who have just woken up from a deep sleep and are now a bit confused as they look at the world around them.

  • They are moving out into the open forest, enjoying their newfound freedom.

Line 17-24


I sit inside, doors open to the veranda

writing long letters

in which I scarcely mention the departure

of the forest from the house.

The night is fresh, the whole moon shines

in a sky still open

the smell of leaves and lichen

still reaches like a voice into the rooms


Explanation:


In this particular excerpt from the poem "The Trees" written by Adrienne Rich, the speaker portrays a deeply introspective and private moment. The speaker conveys that they are situated indoors, yet the doors are open, connecting them with the outside veranda. This setting serves as the backdrop for a profound and reflective experience that the speaker is undergoing.


By describing the doors as open to the veranda, the speaker creates a sense of connection with the surrounding nature and the external environment. This opening acts as a physical and symbolic link between the sheltered indoor space and the world beyond. This fusion of indoor and outdoor spaces underscores the speaker's attempt to bridge the gap between their inner thoughts and the external world, blending the personal and the universal.


The passage provides readers with a glimpse into the speaker's unique viewpoint and emotional state during this moment. The speaker's choice to share this contemplative instance reveals a level of vulnerability and intimacy. This is not just a description of the physical environment but an exploration of the speaker's internal landscape, as they ponder and make sense of their thoughts and emotions in the context of the natural world.


In a broader sense, this excerpt contributes to the deeper themes of the poem. The interplay between the indoor and outdoor spaces mirrors the tension between solitude and connectivity, self-discovery and external awareness. The speaker's engagement with the veranda and the environment becomes a metaphor for the interconnectedness of personal experiences with the broader human experience.


In essence, these lines offer more than just a description of the setting; they function as a window into the speaker's inner world and their attempts to grapple with the intricate themes that the poem addresses. Through this personal and contemplative snapshot, readers gain insight into the complexities of human emotion, self-reflection, and the interwoven relationship between the individual and the natural world.


Glossary:

in which I scarcely mention the departure

of the forest from the house.


  • The poet observes the departure of the trees, but she doesn't directly get involved in the event. She recognizes the powerful change that the trees represent, similar to oppressed individuals gaining freedom.

  • However, this transformation doesn't astonish her. In this context, language is compared to a house that cannot simple put the agony of nature in words alone.


the smell of leaves and lichen

still reaches like a voice into the rooms


  • The poet says that even though the trees have left the house, the smell of leaves and lichen can still be smelled inside the rooms. It's like a voice speaking to us.

  • This means that even though the trees are gone, their presence and the scents of nature are still felt inside the house, almost like a reminder that they were once there.

  • It shows that nature can leave a lasting impression, even when it's not physically present.


Lines 25-32


My head is full of whispers

which tomorrow will be silent.

Listen. The glass is breaking.

The trees are stumbling forward into the night.

Winds rush to meet them.

The moon is broken like a mirror,

its pieces flash now in the crown

of the tallest oak.


Glossary


"My head is full of whispers

which tomorrow will be silent."


Here, the speaker refers to a mental state characterized by a flurry of thoughts, ideas, or possibly emotions ("whispers"). The implication is that these internal musings are transient and will soon fade away. This could signify a moment of introspection or contemplation, where the speaker is aware of a significant change on the horizon. The notion that these whispers will be "silent" tomorrow suggests a transformation or shift in the speaker's state of mind.


"Listen. The glass is breaking.

The trees are stumbling forward

into the night. Winds rush to meet them."


These lines convey a sense of urgency and movement. The command "Listen" invites the reader to pay attention to the unfolding scene. The metaphor of "glass is breaking" might represent the shattering of a barrier or a transitional moment. This could symbolize the breaking of constraints or barriers that have confined the trees or the speaker.


The image of "trees stumbling forward into the night" is a continuation of the metaphor of trees as beings in motion, breaking free from their confines. The word "stumbling" implies a sense of uncertainty or the challenges of change. The phrase "winds rush to meet them" adds an element of energy and forward momentum to the scene, suggesting a force of nature propelling the trees toward their new destination.


"The moon is broken like a mirror,

its pieces flash now in the crown

of the tallest oak."


The metaphor of the "moon is broken like a mirror" is particularly striking. It suggests a dramatic change or disruption in the natural order. The image of the "pieces" of the moon "flash now in the crown of the tallest oak" conjures an ethereal and transformative visual. This image underscores the idea of change and transformation, perhaps representing a change in perception or a new perspective on the world.


Overall, these lines capture a sense of impending change, with the breaking glass, moving trees, rushing winds, and the shattered moon all contributing to the atmosphere of transformation and transition. The imagery conveys a feeling of urgency and movement, inviting readers to reflect on the fleeting nature of moments and the profound shifts that life can bring.



NCERT Solution ( Page 100-101)

Thinking about the Poem


1. (i) Find, in the first stanza, three things that cannot happen in a treeless forest.

Ans In a forest without trees, three things cannot occur: birds cannot perch, insects cannot find concealment, and the sun cannot cast its shadowed embrace.


(ii) What picture do these words create in your mind: “… sun bury its feet in shadow…”? What could the poet mean by the sun’s ‘feet’?


The words paint a vivid picture of sunlight filtering through the forest's trees. The poet gives human qualities to the sun. She describes the shadow that falls on the forest floor where the sun's rays can't reach. This imagery makes it appear as if the sun's rays are a person standing in the forest, with his feet covered in shadow.


2. (i) Where are the trees in the poem? What do their roots, their leaves, and their twigs do?


The trees are located inside the poet's house. Throughout the night, their roots work hard to free themselves from the crevices in the veranda floor, their leaves stretch toward the windows, and their small branches move restlessly under the roof.


(ii) What does the poet compare their branches to?

The poet compares their branches to newly discharged patients who move towards the clinic doors in a half-dazed state.


3. (i) How does the poet describe the moon:

(a) at the beginning of the third stanza, and (b) at its end? What causes this change?


(a) In the opening of the third stanza, the poet portrays the moon as complete and radiant, casting its light across the expansive, unobstructed sky.


(b) Towards the end of the stanza, the poet depicts a transformation in the moon's appearance. Initially, the moon is described as whole and visible in the open sky. However, as the trees return to the forest, the moon is likened to a shattered mirror, with fragments of it gleaming from the highest oak tree. This change in the moon's image is attributed to the trees' movement. In the treeless forest, the sky was expansive and unobstructed, allowing the entire moon to be seen.


(ii) What happens to the house when the trees move out of it?

As the trees make their departure, the scent of leaves and lichen continues to waft into the room through the open doors leading to the veranda. Simultaneously, the glass of the house shatters as the trees stumble and move out into the night. These events mark a profound shift in the poem, signifying the trees' liberation and transformation.


(iii) Why do you think the poet does not mention “the departure of the forest from the house” in her letters? (Could it be that we are often silent about important happenings that are so unexpected that they embarrass us? Think about this again when you answer the next set of questions. (Competency Based Question)


The poet's silence about "the departure of the forest from the house" in her letters could be due to the unexpected nature of the event. Such extraordinary occurrences can be hard to put into words, and they may evoke complex emotions or reactions that are difficult to articulate. In some cases, the sheer novelty or astonishment of an event can render us momentarily speechless.


The poet might not mention the trees' departure in her letters because she believes it's such a significant event that it will become widely known without her having to announce it explicitly. Alternatively, she could consider the departure a deeply personal experience, making her hesitant to share it with others. This reflects how some profound moments are either inherently public or intensely private.


4. Now that you have read the poem in detail, we can begin to ask what the poem might mean. Here are two suggestions. Can you think of others?


(i) Does the poem present a conflict between man and nature? Compare it with A Tiger in the Zoo. Is the poet suggesting that plants and trees, used for ‘interior decoration’ in cities while forests are cut down, are ‘imprisoned’, and need to ‘break out’? (Competency Based Question)


Ans: "The Trees" by Adrienne Rich does not present a direct conflict between humanity and nature. Instead, the poem primarily focuses on the transformative journey of the trees themselves. It explores themes of growth, liberation, and the resilience of the natural world. While the poem does depict the trees' movement from an indoor environment to the open forest, it does not frame this as a conflict with humanity or as a result of human actions. Instead, the poem emphasizes the natural world's ability to adapt and flourish, even in changing circumstances.


In contrast, "A Tiger in the Zoo" by Leslie Norris does depict a conflict between a captive tiger and humans who observe it in a zoo. The poem delves into themes of captivity, freedom, and the impact of human intervention on the natural world.

The poet does suggest that plants and trees used for interior decoration in cities, while forests are cut down, are in a way 'imprisoned.' The trees in the poem represent a desire for freedom and a return to their natural environment. The idea is that nature should not be confined within urban spaces but should have the opportunity to thrive and grow freely in its native habitat. The poem can be interpreted as a metaphorical call for a more harmonious relationship between humans and the natural world, where nature is allowed to break free from constraints imposed by urbanization and flourish in its own right.

(ii) On the other hand, Adrienne Rich has been known to use trees as a metaphor for human beings; this is a recurrent image in her poetry. What new meanings emerge from the poem if you take its trees to be symbolic of this particular meaning? (Competency Based Question)


If we view the trees in Adrienne Rich's "The Trees" as symbolic of human beings, the poem takes on a new depth of meaning. It becomes a metaphor for the human experience. The trees' struggle to move from the house to the forest represents the universal human quest for freedom, self-discovery, and personal growth. It can also symbolize collective movements for empowerment and social change. This interpretation underscores the interconnectedness of humans with the natural world, emphasizing the need for harmony between the two. Ultimately, the poem becomes a powerful call for individuals to break free from constraints, both personal and societal, and to embrace their true selves while fostering a more just and environmentally conscious society.


5. You may read the poem ‘On Killing a Tree’ by Gieve Patel (Beehive – Textbook in English for Class IX, NCERT). Compare and contrast it with the poem you have just read. (Competency Based Question)


Ans:

Comparing "On Killing a Tree" by Gieve Patel with Adrienne Rich's "The Trees" reveals two distinct approaches to the theme of trees. While both poems use trees as central symbols, they diverge in their treatment of the subject matter.


Gieve Patel's "On Killing a Tree" is a poignant exploration of the destructive power of humans over nature. It delves into the act of killing a tree and the relentless determination it requires. Patel's poem highlights the human role in the tree's demise, underscoring our capacity to harm nature intentionally. Through vivid and sometimes brutal imagery, such as "blisters," "white snaking roots," and "green thrusts itself through asphalt," Patel conveys the pain and struggle associated with the act of killing a tree. The poem's overall tone is one of condemnation, offering a critical view of human actions that harm the environment.


Adrienne Rich's "The Trees," on the other hand, takes a different approach. It centers on the transformative journey of trees, symbolizing growth, liberation, and resilience. Rich's poem suggests that nature and human-made structures can coexist harmoniously, highlighting the adaptability of nature. The trees in this poem can also be seen as metaphors for human experience, representing personal and collective journeys of self-discovery and empowerment. The imagery employed by Rich is evocative of growth and transformation, creating a contemplative and transformative tone.


In summary, while both poems revolve around trees, they offer contrasting perspectives. "On Killing a Tree" focuses on the destructive impact of humans on nature, while "The Trees" emphasizes transformation, growth, and the potential for a more harmonious coexistence between humans and the natural world.


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