The Trees Are Down

​General Notes

Poet, Charlotte Mew is mourning the loss of Great Plane Trees at Euston Square.  Themes - Nature, Religion.

 

Epigraph

Taken from the book of Revelation in the Bible, telling the reader that negative actions on the environment (e.g. cutting trees down) is ungodly and goes against the commandments of God.  Writing at a time where religion was much more important to people than it is now.

Stanza One

l. 1:  The first line tells us plainly that they have been cutting down the ‘great plane-trees’ at the ‘end of the gardens’ of Euston Square.  The line is written in a relatively blunt, emotionless way, immediately giving the reader the circumstances for what is happening before asking us to judge it.  Quite conversational line, creates a bond between reader and the poet.

ll. 2-3:  ‘For days’ suggests the scale of the mass culling of trees.  ‘Grate’, ‘swish,’ ‘crash’ and ‘rustle’ are onomatopoeic phrases which vividly connote to the reader the sounds of the trees falling, with negative connotation.   

ll. 4-5:  ‘Whoops’ and ‘Whoas’ shows the lack of care which people pay to the environment, sounds of the people heavily contrast the sounds of the trees.  Clearly see Mew’s tone of scorn when she talks about the men, and their repeated ‘common’ talk, which means both commonplace and rude/lower-class.   Repetition of ‘loud’ emphasizes the rudeness of the men, and repetition serves to exaggerate it even more. The phrase ‘above it all’ is ironic as it shows how ignorant people are about the effects that this act will have on themselves.  Mew is suggesting that they are not in fact, ‘above it all’.

Stanza Two

ll. 6-7:  Shift occurs, moving into Mew’s own personal memory, where she talks about finding a dead rat in the middle of her drive one ‘Spring’.  Settings of the ‘evening’ and ‘Spring’ juxtapose, ‘evening’ is at the end of something but ‘Spring’ is at the beginning of it. Short phrase in l. 7 suggest the quick movements that she is making as she gets out of the ‘cart’, making her actions more vivid for the reader.  Emphasizes the size of the ‘large dead rat’, monosyllables slow down the line, making us concentrate on the one event, while she also emphasizes the size of the rat.

l. 8:  She remembers that she believed that ‘alive or dead’, a rat is ‘god-forsaken’ (evil, unliked, dirty) thing in contrast to the trees, and yet even so she believes that ‘in May’, ‘even a rat should be alive.’  This shows her belief that Spring is the season of hope, renewal and life, and because of this even something as unloveable as a rat should be able to experience it. This relates to the trees as she is then effectively saying that the trees should certainly be allowed to experience the spring, so much better are they than rats.

 

Stanza Three

l. 9:  ‘good as done’ has connotations of finality as well as Mew’s sense of frustration and futility that she hasn’t managed to stop the trees being brought down.  ‘There is just one bough’, the modifying word ‘just’ emphasizes the fact that all the others have been cut down.

l. 10:  ‘bole’ means the trunk of a tree, which is ‘roped’ because the men have essentially put up ropes to help them cut the branches down.  Assonance of the ‘o’ sound creates a sense of mourning and sadness, as well as slowness. ‘Fine grey rain’, fine meaning ‘thin’ and ‘grey’ suggests sadness and dullness, and thin relates to the cutting down or thinning out of nature.  Assonance between ‘grey’ and ‘rain’ which again creates slowness and sadness in the line. This line is a good example of pathetic fallacy, using rain to reflect Mew’s sadness and tears.

ll. 11-12:  ‘Green and high’ is initially a positive image, connoting strength and life, which juxtaposes ‘lonely against the sky’, personifying the trees as weakened and alone.  Creates a very striking image for the reader in the centre of the poem.

l. 13:  Use of brackets stands for an aside to the reader, as though the poet is making a comment on what she sees - in this case her exclamation that the trees are no longer there.

ll. 14-15:  Mew comments that if she hadn’t seen the trees cut down, she wouldn’t have remembered the rat, or paid any attention to the death of things in the prime of their life.  Phrase ‘unmake the Spring’ is extremely powerful because it suggests not only that the Spring is over, but that it has been unmade entirely, totally torn apart in an unnatural way.  

Stanza Four

l. 16: ‘It is not for a moment’ confesses the fact that the Spring is now unmade for many years by the loss of the trees, disrupting the natural order and all the hopefully connotations of Spring.

l. 17:  The whole of trees ‘from root to stem’ was ‘great’, Mew tells us here.

ll. 18-19: Alliteration of ‘Whoops’ and ‘Whoas’ and ‘whole’ and ‘whispering’ creates a sense of sighing, showing Mew’s sadness and despair at the trees being carted away, may also represent the ‘whispering’ sounds of the trees.  ‘Whispering loveliness’ is a metaphor, showing the trees transformed into what they represent: life of nature as seen in its most positive way.

l. 20:  Shows the personal consequences for the loss of the trees- it will tear the Spring in half for Mew, as well as for everyone else.  

 

Stanza Five

l. 21:  ‘It’ here refers to the trees and the Spring, uniting them in one pronoun.  Mew then links herself to the trees, saying that her heart (emotional) has been ‘struck’ (very violent verb) just like the heart (centres) of trees have been struck with an axe in order to cut them down.  Shows the close links between nature and human life.

l. 22:  Goes on to emphasize the link between her own life and the life of the natural world, where the trees have been present for ‘half my life’, and her heart has beat alongside those of the trees (showing them as alive) in all conditions.  Listing here creates a sense of time passing.

l. 23:  She mentions that ‘great gales’ which the trees have suffered from across the ‘great seas’, implies the great events which the trees have lived through and survived, making it even more pitiful that they have now been cut down.  

l. 24:  The fact that there was only a ‘quiet rain’ when they were dying suggests their purity and innocence which is mirrored in the tears of the natural world.  Also suggests that lack of appropriate scale of how the natural world reacts when these trees are cut down, as though this should also be in a ‘great gale’ to mirror the severity of the action.  Two different interpretations here.

l. 25-26:  Mew creates an atmosphere of softness and silence, portraying how the trees observed the smallest things which were living alongside them, e.g. the ‘sparrows’ and the ‘creeping creatures in the earth’.  This suggests their wisdom as well as their sensitivity to the goings on of the world.

L. 27-28:  Yet Mew, she tells us, heard not the small creatures as the trees were dying.  Instead ‘all day’ shows a constant, pervasive impact and sentiment that an ‘angel’, a creature of God was telling her and reminding her to ‘Hurt not the trees’ though nobody else listened.

 

Structure

  • Rhyme is occasional, often been used for effect - sounds of ‘high’ and ‘sky’ rhyme in order to create a sense of grandeur, whereas the final ‘ying’ sound (dying, flying, lying, crying) creates a sense of crying out, as though Mew and the trees are in pain.  There is often a rhyming pair in the centre of a stanza, finished at the end of the stanza, creating a sense of finality at the end of each stanza.

  • Rhythms can be read in iambics, suggesting the slow plod of the poem onwards, yet are more easily read in a more naturalistic rhythm, suggesting a conversational tone.  Mew is talking to the reader as though they were simply talking to a friend, mirroring the poem’s focus on everyday life.

  • Shape of the poem is five stanzas, with the four stanzas on either end being quite regular, but with the central stanza coming to a point in the middle.  Shape of the stanza mirrors the trees/branches with a cut in the middle, ready to be tipped over.

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