Summary of The Heart of the Tree by Henry Cuyler Bunner

About the poet: Henry Cuyler Bunner was born in Oswego, New York to Rudolph Bunner, Jr. (1813–1875) and Ruth Keating Tuckerman (1821–1896) and was educated in New York City. He published his first novel in 1886 The Midge followed by The story of a New York House. He is best known for his short stories like Short Sixes (1891), More Short Sixes (1894), Made in France (1893), Zadoc Pine and Other Stories (1891), Love in Old Cloathes and Other Stories (1896), and Jersey Street and Jersey Lane (1896). His verses Airs from Arcady and elsewhere which was published in 1884 is noted for its light play of imagination and a delicate craftsmanship. He also wrote parodies and plays(like The Tower of Babel). His short story Zenobia’s Infidelity was made into a feature film called Zenobia.

About the poem: Poet Henry Cuyler Bunner writes about a universal theme which is about planting trees and the benefits we gain from trees. In this apparently simple poem, the poet has touched some serious questions about humanity.

Summary of The Heart of the Tree

First Stanza

What does he plant who plants a tree?


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He plants a friend of sun and sky;

The poem starts with a rhetorical question “What does he plant who plants a tree?” and that sets the tone for the entire poem. In the next line, the poet himself answers the question that the man plants a friend of sun and sky by planting a tree. As the tree grows, it befriends the sun and the sky.

He plants the flag of breezes free;

The shaft of beauty towering high;

The speaker or the narrator now adds that the man plants a flag that flies freely in the mild breeze.

He plants a home to heaven anigh;

For song and mother-croon of bird

By planting a tree, one plants a home for the birds to rest and sing beautiful songs. So, a plant keeps the earth habitable for birds and helps in maintaining the ecosystem.

In hushed and happy twilight heard—

The treble of heaven’s harmony—

These things he plants who plants a tree.

We become mesmerized by the heavenly tunes of the singing birds in the quiet and happy twilight. So, throughout the first stanza, the poet cum narrator emphasizes the importance of the trees in maintaining the overall balance of nature. Words like ‘heaven anigh’, ‘heaven’s harmony’ and ‘towering high’ is consciously used to give the reader an impression that the work of planting a tree is indeed a heavenly and glorious deed.


Second Stanza

What does he plant who plants a tree?

He plants cool shade and tender rain,

The poet repeats the question in the second stanza and like before answered the question in the following line. That the trees we plant provides us with cool shades from the scorching heat of the summer and rain.

And seed and bud of days to be,

And years that fade and flush again;

A tree will produce seed and bud in future for reproduction leaving behind its imprints for the following years to come.

He plants the glory of the plain;

He plants the forest’s heritage;

Trees are the main elements that make a plain area green and beautiful. So the poet describes trees as ‘the glory of the plain’. Moreover, today’s single tree may turn into a forest someday. So by planting a tree now the man plants a ‘forest’s heritage’.

The harvest of a coming age;

The joy that unborn eyes shall see—

These things he plants who plants a tree.

The poet cum narrator mentions that by planting a tree today, we ensure the “harvest of the coming age” which our future generation will be delighted to have. And all these things are happening because of the man who has planted the precious tree in the first place.

The poet is indirectly asking us to plant as many trees as possible to make our world a better place for us and for the coming generations.

Third Stanza

What does he plant who plants a tree?

He plants in sap and leaf and wood,

In love of home and loyalty

And far-cast thought of civic good—

His blessings on the neighbourhood,

Planting also means showing your love and respect for your society. It also increases one’s sense of civic responsibilities.

Who in the hollow of His hand

Holds all the growth of all our land—

A nation’s growth from sea to sea

Stirs in his heart who plants a tree.

By planting a tree, a man takes part in the nation-building process by enhancing the progress from “ sea to sea”. And all these start from the progressive thought in the man’s heart who plants a tree. The capitalization in ‘His’ indicates that the man who plants a tree is more sensitive than the others.

Thus the poet Henry Cuyler Bunner ends up composing an uncommon piece of poetry in ‘The Heart of the Tree’ out of a common and cliché topic – the usefulness of planting a tree. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading the summary of The Heart of the Tree. 

 

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