by Adrienne Rich
Complete explanation of the poem included in the NCERT Class X book the first flight
Learning about the poet
Adrienne Rich (1929-2012) was a renowned American poet, essayist and a staunch crusader of Feminism. Her popularity as an author added strength to her cause, and established her as the foremost campaigner for unshackling of women from the chains that historical patriarchy tied them with. Her career peaked in the second half of the twentieth century as her laments pleading for deliverance of the oppressed women resonated across the world.
About this poem
The Trees is a poem based on the metaphoric use of the word tree. The tree is immobile, stuck to its roots and condemned to a life where it is called upon to do all sorts of sacrifices without expecting much in return. This role is so much akin to the women who are expected to stay indoors, rear children, and care for every member of the family.
Being a staunch feminist, Adrienne Rich found the subjugation of women by society as irreconcilable and abhorrent. She strove to break free of the bondage and live a life of her liking, no matter how the society looked upon her ways. She inspired other women to assert their choice, sexuality, and preferences. To a large extent, she succeeded although she had to weather heavy storms of male resistance all her way. The poem depicts her travails as she tried to upend the existing social order.
Use of metaphors
1. Trees refer to women confined to their homes, and not allowed to do jobs or pursue their hobbies.
2. Night refers to the ambience inside homes that are dark, gloomy, and stifling for women.
3. Forest means the place that is benign, caring, and lively. Women, who have escaped to freedom, congregate in such a place to pursue their love, ambition and innate preferences.
4. Roots of a tree refer to the countless restrictions imposed on women to conform to rules of conduct laid down by others. These controls fetter them all their lives.
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
The freedom-loving women are severing their family ties and escaping to a world that provides them a conducive environment to thrive and flourish. Such domains had no inmates. It means the free space outside homes had no female claimants earlier. It was barren, lifeless, crude, and hostile, just as a denuded forest with vanishing flora and fauna looks like. When freedom-loving come here to lead their lives in their own ways, the space becomes vibrant, joyous and creative.
Question 1.. How has the author described the beauty and the benign nature of forests?
Answer .. Forests are a cluster of trees where big animals and tiny insects live side by side. Tall trees and dwarf plants also thrive in harmony with each other. The sunlight makes its way to the floor of the forests through small gaps in the foliage of trees. Observing such things provide a pleasant experience to our minds. Pedestrians also take shelter under the trees to escape the scorching Sun, and the rains. Over all, forests are a gift of Nature that are so friendly to human beings.
Question 2 .. What the author refers to as ‘forest’ in this stanza?
Answer .. The author, being a feminist, is at odds with the conventional family environment that denies her any freedom. She feels restless and stifled, and wants to escape to a place where she can live her life in her own way. Lke the author, there are so many more like-minded women who feel choked in the tradition-bound homes and want to escape so that they can live freely as per their wish. When such women settle together to form a community of feminists, the place will be very habitable just as a forest is.
All night the roots work
to disengage themselves from the cracks
in the veranda floor.
The leaves strain toward the glass
small twigs stiff with exertion
long-cramped boughs shuffling under the roof
like newly discharged patients
to the clinic doors.
The female members of the family relentlessly try to unfetter themselves, but the strict rules of society forbids them to aspire for independent roles. They struggle and sustain scars of mind and body. They can only aspire to enjoy the freedom of outside. Family curbs cause hurt and humiliation to them. They get bruised, and weathered. Finally, when they succeed to break free, their bodies and minds are drained and enfeebled, just a patient feels on being allowed to leave the hospital after a long stay.
Question 3 .. Why the author has used the words like ‘crack’, ‘twigs’, ‘exertion’, ‘hospital’ etc.? What she is alluding to?
Answer .. Feminist women trapped in conventional families try relentlessly to cut their links with the family and escape to a ‘free’ environment. Such struggle is very difficult and leaves them bruised, tired, and embattled. The small escape windows they see are the ‘cracks’. Their battered bodies and minds are the ‘twigs’. Their famished and weakened bodies are similar to the apperance of patients leaving the hospital after treatment.
I sit inside, doors open to the verandah
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
The thoughtful author waits her time out inside the confines of her home pouring out her emotions in a letter. She imagines the pleasures and the aroma of freedom that await her as and when she unshackles herself. The outside world where a woman can live her life in her chosen way, looks soothing, caring and joyful. She years for the sound and smell of the shuffling leaves, and the colour and feel of the lichens.
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.
The author’s mind is turbulent as the storm of rebellion sweeps across it. The surroundings are depressive, choking, and utterly frustrating.
Despondency rents the air. She knows, when she finally manages to disentangle herself from the rigid mores of her community, she would be a free bird. These thoughts make her feel more miserable.
(Questions and answers will be posted later.)