"Oh no," my friend wailed as we turned the corner. "They've cut down all the trees." I turned and looked. Along the field at the base of the hill, the line of trees which had once edged the large swatch of grass, punctuating the open space like so many colons, were gone. The landscape looked as forlorn as my friend.
Even if there is a good reason to cut down a tree - the ones behind our townhome have stretched their roots into the water pipes - it is hard not to grieve one's death. Especially when they have become dear friends, harbored neighboring squirrels, provided color, texture, architectural lines, shade, and eerily breathy pipes for the evening winds.
In The Trees are Down, the poet decries the demise of the great plane-trees at the end of her garden. By choosing to describe the lumbermen's talk as "common," she implies that they are oblivious to the sacredness of their task, their 'Whoops' and 'Whoas,' as out of place as whistling at a funeral.
The energy of Spring is all about life. Even a rat, a "god-forsaken thing," deserves to be alive in Spring, she muses in the next paragraph. Perhaps a rat may die in the winter, but in the warmth of May, all creatures should be alive. The rat's death "unmakes" for a moment some of the joy, the verdant power of springtime.
And if the Spring was undone for a moment by noticing the death of a rat, so the cutting of the trees, these "great trees," signify an unmaking of the Spring which will have lasting implications. Having shared half her life with these woody guardians, the author mourns a deep personal loss. She is companioned by the quiet rain, weeping as the "whole of the whispering loveliness" is carted away.
The Trees are Down
...and he cried with a loud voice;
Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees --
They are cutting down the great plane-trees at the end of the garden.
For days there has been the grate of the saw, the swish of the branches as they fall.
The crash of trunks, the rustle of trodden leaves,
With the 'Whoops' and the 'Whoas', the loud common talk, the loud common laughs of the
men, above it all.
I remember one evening of a long past Spring
Turning in at a gate, getting out of a cart, and finding a large dead rat in the mud of the
I remember thinking: alive or dead, a rat was a god-forsaken thing,
But at least, in May, that even a rat should be alive.
The week's work here is as good as done. There is just one bough
On the roped bole, in the fine grey rain,
Green and high
And lonely against the sky.
And but for that,
If an old dead rat
Did once, for a moment, unmake the Spring, I might never have thought of him again.
It is not for a moment the Spring is unmade to-day;
These were great trees, it was in them from root to stem:
When the men with the 'Whoops' and the 'Whoas' have carted the whole of the whispering
Half the Spring, for me, will have gone with them.
It is going now, and my heart has been struck with the heart of the planes;
Half my life it has beat with these, in the sun, in the rains,
In the March wind, the May breeze,
In the great gales that came over to them across the roofs from the great seas.
There was only a quiet rain when they were dying;
They must have heard the sparrows flying,
And the small creeping creatures in the earth where they were lying---
But I, all day, I heard an angel crying:
"Hurt not the trees."