Symbolism in the Poem Tree by Hirshfield … Essay
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Symbolism in Hirshfield's "Tree"
People have cut trees for over centuries to take advantage of many things. Unfortunately, not only trees, but many animals in the world have become extinct. According to research in Global Change Biology, "The fossil record indicates that around 30% of genera and 50% of mammal species that inhabited Europe during last 21,000 years went extinct as a result of the global changes that took place in that period"(Varela et al. 1475). As one can see, the fossil record shows that as the environment changes, species die. Thus, in our own time, consideration should be given as to how the environment is impacted by choices that people make today. The poet Hirshfield shows that nature needs to be protected. In her poem "Tree," she uses symbolism to warn people to respect nature and not to ignore it. Hirshfield symbolizes a young redwood tree as an invader in order to warn people to pay attention to the environment and not forget that it is a living thing too and needs to be taken seriously because what people and nature interact -- and when people ignore nature, nature is forced to assert itself in powerful and dramatic ways, as Hirshfield shows in her poem.
The redwood tree is important in nature because it is a symbol of the immensity of nature. The redwood is a gigantic tree that stretches up and is very thick. In the redwood forests in California there are some trees that grow so big, people have carved roadways through them, as Bryson notes in his exploration of America (Rawlinson). The redwood represents the enormity of nature, the grandeur of the environment and the majesty of its size. The redwood tree is like a picture from the past or like an image from a fairy-tale where giants roam and live among mortals. The redwood tree thus has a fantastical element to it -- a romantic character that invites the reader to step outside the box in which he lives and judge the world anew with fresh eyes. The redwood's status in nature is like that of the legendary player in a game of sport or like a legendary mythological beast in folklore: it has an air of mystery to it that makes one wonder and inspires the imagination. It is a tree that people love and one that is "iconic" (Bourne 28). The greatness of the tree and its enormous girth makes for a lesson in humility too. One can feel very small standing next to a redwood tree because it is so big. It can in this way serve as a reminder to mankind that nature is something with a very real presence in the lives of people and that people should not dismiss it or ignore or act like it is not important or like it is not even there. The simple fact that the redwood is a tree that commands respect and awe is what gives it its literary power charm in the context of Hirshfield's poem, where the unsuspecting reader is surprised by the way in which the redwood essentially sneaks up on the house and taps on its window with its branches. The tree basically says, "Did you forget about me? You thought you could take over the environment but you did not consider how big and important I am, did you?" All of this is conveyed by the aura of redwood both in nature and in the poem.
Second, Hirshfield introduces a redwood as a nuisance, and says, "It is foolish to let a young redwood grow next to a house" -- meaning that the character in the poem has not respected nature and understood how big a redwood can grow (it could crush the house if it fell on it, or its roots could cause the house to shift and become unsafe). The tree is ironically depicted as a nuisance and as a danger to the homebuilders because they have failed to appreciate their environment and now the environment is intruding upon their sphere of living. They have meant to house themselves in their own little bubble and in their own little insular paradise, but nature will not allow it. Hirshfield appears to be suggesting that rather than ignoring nature, people should attempt to live in harmony with nature and neither seek to destroy or abuse nature nor to live apart from it. Since harmony is a quality of nature that people should appreciate (Carlson 267), people should work with nature and work with their surroundings and respect what nature gives them and be respectful in turn and consider how nature acts, grows, works together within its own environment. People can then see how they too can live in nature without disrupting the real interaction between variables in nature and in the environment. The point is that nature as symbolized by the redwood should not be a nuisance or a danger but that it is viewed as both by people who have forgotten to respect and appreciate their natural environment. In the poem, the tree becomes a nuisance and begins to brush up against the house because the people have been ignorantly presumptuous about their place in nature, thinking that if they build a house wherever they want, nature will respect their boundaries. Instead of foolishly thinking that, they should have been respecting nature's boundaries and not the other way around.
Third, people have devastated many forests and there is a sense in the poem that the tree is now in the process of devastating the home. This is an inversion of the common theme in life. Instead of people destroying forests, the forest is about to destroy the people's home. It is like an act of retribution, and in this sense, the tree symbolizes a danger or threat to people: it is nature retaliating or asserting itself in the face of human disrespect or negligence. People should take care to be more considerate and when they are not considerate to nature, when they treat it badly or act like it does not matter, nature has a way of coming back and taking over -- and this is what the tree represents in the poem: it is a giant force that "suddenly" appears at the doorstep of the house and is saying, "Knock knock," to the people inside. It is a very startling recognition that is happening and the people should be terrified because the tree is a power and influential force that is described as being "calm" and orderly whereas the people are a mess with their lives and things, which are described as a "clutter" by Hirshfield. Thus it is clear that the poet has more respect and regard for the greatness of nature than for people who live sloppy lives and do not show any order or care in their own manner of living and in their own spheres and much less for their environment. For this reason, the tree symbolizes the sense that the people are a threat to nature and that nature has to take care of itself by reminding the people that it can protect itself if necessary. Nature thus represents the invasion, but it brings a message that nature is in danger.
Fourth, human history is not that long compared to nature. Humans began to make differences long after the nature constructed enormous environment. Hirshfield writes "this clutter of soup pots and books" in order to show that people are not that significant compared to the whole life on earth. Humans are disorganized and careless and forgetful -- but nature never forgets: its history is longer and older than human history, since it was here before humans. It is ordered according to its own laws too, but humans break their own laws and thus wreak havoc on each other and on nature. Nature cannot do this: it cannot go against itself because then it would not be nature. The redwood thus symbolizes an incontrovertible fact or law and as it pushes up against the house, it insists that it be recognized. In this way, the tree symbolizes the unchanging "laws of nature" (Boyer 325) that humans should respect.
Fifth, the tree symbolizes the reasons the author uses to warn people to protect nature. Hirshfield writes that the tree is "That great calm being" and "Softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life" to illustrate that nature is more important than or is at least vital to human life, and that it is really necessary to humans who choose to develop civilization that they protect nature and not destroy it. The tree does not have to be seen as an intruder -- it is not like a robber: it is calm and stately and dignified. It does not come like a thief in the night except for those who refuse to pay it any mind. For those who appreciate it, it is what it is -- a great and giving thing. The tree… [END OF PREVIEW]
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