Critical Analysis of The Prayer of the Woods:
“The Prayer of the Woods” begins by telling us how useful trees are for humanity. They provide building materials for human beings. At home as well as at work, trees come to our use. They help us in building our houses, as well as the doors to those houses. They also help us in building the tools with which we earn our livelihood. They provide us with food and even help in building the table on which that food is kept. Trees provide us with the refreshment of all sorts. They provide shade on a hot day, and the juices of their fruits when we are dying of thirst. If we are cold, we burn wood to keep warm. We need wood to survive at every stage of our lives. As babies, we lie in cradles made of wood. In death, we lie in coffins made of wood. In between these two times, we lie in our beds that are also made of wood. If we need to travel from here to there, we use boats made of wood. Trees also provide us with flowers. Especially in a country like India, flowers are an essential part of all religious ceremonies. All over the earth, flowers are used to adorn and beautify our houses.
Listing down all these ways in which trees are an integral ingredient in making the human life efficient may seem to be counter-productive as far as the message of this poem is concerned. However, by showing us how trees dedicate their entire lives to us human beings, the tree is successful in gaining our love and sympathy. That is why when it appeals to us not to cut it down, not only do we agree that it would be wrong to do so but we also feel guilty that members of the human race have subjected the noble trees to such a cruel fate before. Hence, the message of this poem is conveyed indirectly, but it is certainly conveyed in a convincing manner.
Stanza-wise Annotation of The Prayer of the Woods:
Please note: N = Noun, V = Verb, Adj = Adjective, Adv = Adverb, P = Preposition, Pr = Pronoun
Hearth (N): The floor of a fireplace
Shade (N): Comparative darkness and coolness caused by shelter from direct sunlight
Screening (V): Present participle form of the word “screen”, that is, to conceal, protect, or shelter (someone or something) with a screen or something forming a screen
Draughts (N): Plural form of the word “draught”, that is, a quantity of a liquid with medicinal properties
Quenching (V): Present participle form of the word “quench”, that is, to satisfy (one’s thirst) by drinking
Beam (N): A long, sturdy piece of squared timber or metal used to support the roof or floor of a building
Holds (V): Third person present tense of the word “hold”, that is, to keep or sustain in a specified position
Board (N): A long, thin, flat piece of wood or other hard material, used for floors or other building purposes
Timber (N): Wood prepared for use in building and carpentry
Hoe (N): A long-handled gardening tool with a thin metal blade, used mainly for weeding
Homestead (N): A house, especially a farmhouse, and outbuildings
Cradle (N): A baby’s bed or cot, typically one mounted on rockers
Shell (N): Something resembling or likened to a shell because of its shape or its function as an outer case
Coffin (N): A long, narrow box, typically of wood, in which a dead body is buried or cremated
Ye (Pr): An older form of the word “you” used in a plural sense (as in “you all”)
Prayer (N): An earnest hope or wish
Harm (V): Physically injure
Poetic Devices in The Prayer of the Woods:
The poet does not follow any identifiable rhyme scheme in this poem.
This rhetorical device is used when a poet addresses his or her poem to an absent or silent audience. In this poem, the poet uses the device of the apostrophe as the tree that he imagines himself to be is speaking directly to travelers at the start of forest trails but we do not see these travelers ever responding to the tree.
This rhetorical device is used when a covert comparison is made between two different things or ideas. In this poem, the poet uses the device of metaphor in the 1st line of the 1st stanza when the tree compares itself to the heat produced by a fireplace. He again uses it in the 3rd line of the 1st stanza when the tree compares its fruits with medicinal liquids. Finally, he uses it in the 1st line of the 4th stanza when the tree compares itself to the food that human beings eat and the flowers they use to bring beauty to their ceremonious occasions.
This rhetorical device is used in many ways to represent one thing with the help of an entirely different one. In this poem, the poet uses the device of synecdoche by using a part to represent the whole in the 1st line of the 4th stanza. He writes the word “bread” to mean “food”.
Central Idea of The Prayer of the Woods:
A tree speaks to travelers who are about to begin their journey through a forest trail. It tells the travelers how useful trees are to human beings. They come to use at our homes and at work. They come to our use in heat and in cold. They come to our use at every point in our lives from our births to our deaths. Trees are both kind and beautiful. That is why the speaker of this poem requests all travelers never to cut down trees.
The Themes of The Prayer of the Woods:
The uses of trees:
Trees come to the use of human beings at home as well as at work. They help us in building the beams that hold up our houses, as well as the doors to those houses. They also help us in building the tools with which we earn our livelihood. In particular, the tree mentions the hoe that we use in harvesting crops. This makes sense because agriculture still provides a major part of the human population with its sole source of income. Trees provide us with food and even help in building the table on which that food is kept. They provide us with the refreshment of all sorts. They provide us with shade on a summer’s day, and with their juicy fruits to quench our thirst. If we are cold, we burn wood in our fireplaces to keep warm. We need wood to survive at every stage of our lives. As babies, we lie in cradles made of wood. In death, we lie in coffins made of wood. In between these two times, we lie in our beds that are also made of wood. If we need to travel from place to place, we use boats made of wood. Trees also provide us with flowers. Especially in a country like India, flowers are an essential part of all religious ceremonies. In the rest of the world as well, flowers are used to adorn and beautify our houses.
Even though the poem is written in the voice of a tree, its poet is obviously a human being. Moreover, it is a human being who is very ecologically aware. He realizes that too many trees are being cut down and that this will only have an adverse effect on the earth which we call our home. That is why he uses this poem to make us feel guilty for our actions and instead make an initiative to change our ways. He hopes that the message he gives us will help us make more correct choices in the future, and to conserve forest areas. Placing this message in the immediate vicinity of trees is a master stroke. Even if certain men have wrong intentions, they might change their minds at the last moment after reading this poem.
The Tone of The Prayer of the Woods:
This poem has a bit of a moralizing tone. As the tree is telling us of the ways in which trees are useful to us, we never doubt that it is speaking the truth, and we also realize that it is stating these supposedly obvious facts for a reason. However, the tree is never preachy. It does not make demands, but only requests. It requests man not to cut down trees.
“The Prayer of the Woods” is an anonymous poem. However, that serves the poem well. If we were to attach it to the name of a human being, then the identity of its speaker as a tree would seem less ingenious. It is as if the poet has identified himself so much with trees that he has lost his very identity as a human being. It may also be that he is so ashamed to be a part of the human race that have cut down trees that he has denied his identity as a human being. In either case, it is the tree that we empathize with as readers of the poem, and it is the tree with which our emotions are attached.