In “The heart of the tree”, Henry Cuyler Bunner has attempted to highlight the importance of planting trees in a nation. He begins every stanza by asking a rhetorical question –“What does he plant who plants a tree?” and closes the stanzas by highlighting the impact of trees on the environment. By doing so he makes the readers ponder over the issue and eventually answers on his own. The language of the poem is very simple and lucid. The poet begins to explain the usefulness of planting trees as he says that the one who plants a tree plants a friend of the sun and the sky. It is because the tree always aims for the sun and the sky, i.e., it grows upwards to reach the sky. Again, the sun provides sunlight to the tree which is vital to carry out the process of photosynthesis to make food for plants.
Trees take up carbon dioxide from the air and release oxygen, thereby, purifying the air around. The poet compares the tree to a flag. Just like the flag moves freely in the breeze, the leafy branches of the tree also flutter and provides a cool breeze to us. Trees, for the poet, are the epitome of beauty on the earth. He further adds that when a ma plants a tree, he plants a home for the birds that sing in harmonious voice. The trees become the natural habitat of the birds and hence the balance in the ecosystem is restored.
In the second stanza, too, the poet asks the same question. He wishes to add more points to encourage his readers to plant trees. He says that the tree provides cool shade to all- to birds, to animals, and to human beings. It is now an unknown fact that trees help in causing rain. Trees bear seeds and bud for the future generations and continue the process of birth, death, and regeneration. They make the plain area look naturally beautiful. When the poet says that a man “plants the forest’s heritage”, he means that if anyone takes the initiative to plant a single tree then in the future it might grow into a forest, thereby, enriching the natural beauty of the planet. Our future progenies will enjoy all the benefits of the trees that we plant today. The poet brings into limelight not only the present benefits of planting trees but also the benefits our future generations would reap.
The poet adds a philosophical element to the poem The heart of the tree as he says that a man who plants a tree does so out of his concern for his family, his neighborhood and the entire universe. When a man plants a tree he fulfills his civic duty. He says that by planting a tree, a man is making ways for fellow human beings to access food and wood. By doing so the man is directly able to contribute to nature’s growth. We see a capitalization in the word ‘His’ in the last stanza used to refer to the person who plants trees. He has been attributed God-like abilities to plan the destiny for the nation. He holds the growth of the nation in his hands. Through such simple yet powerful narration, the poet has successfully pointed out that the tree can itself be regarded as the heart of human life that looks over the well-being of everyone. It is the tree which is responsible for the growth of mankind and the one who plants them must be respected for his noble deed.
Alliteration – It is the close repetition of consonant sounds, usually at the beginning of words. For instance,
- “He plants a friend of sun and sky”
- “He plants a home to heaven anigh”
- In hushed and happy twilight heart”
- “He plants a flag of breezes free”
Metonymy – Metonymy is a figure of speech in which one word or phrase is substituted by something that is closely associated with it. In this poem, The heart of the tree, the phrases “cool shade”, “tender rain”, “sap and leaf and wood”, are all metonyms for the tree. In the first stanza, in the line “He plants a home to heaven anigh”, ‘heaven’ represents the sky.
Transferred epithet – It is a figure of speech in which an adjective qualifies the noun and not the person or thing it is originally describing. For instance,
“In hushed and happy twilight heard”- Here the adjective “happy” qualifies twilight though it means people’s happiness. ‘Twilight’ is not happy, the ‘people’ are happy but still, twilight is qualified by happy.
Metaphor – It is a figure of speech in which a similarity between two different things is implied but not directly stated. In this poem, The heart of the tree, the branches of a tree are compared to a flag. For instance, “He plants the flag of breezes free”.
Personification – It is a figure of speech in which abstract ideas or inanimate objects are given attributes of living beings. For instance, the poet personifies the tree when it calls it “a friend of sun and sky”.
Polysyndeton – It is a figure of speech used for close repetition of conjunctions. For instance,
“He plants in sap and leaf and wood”