The Trees Are Down by Charlotte Mew

The Trees Are Down by Charlotte Mew is a five stanza poem about her reaction to the cutting down of the great plane trees at Euston Square Garden in the 1920s.  The poem starts off with a biblical quotation mentioning a command of not hurting the earth, sea, or trees; this emphasizes the importance that Mew gives to the trees that she is so very broken-hearted over. The Trees Are Down is written in first person to help the reader feel more connected to Mews emotions as she describes her reactions to the falling trees. It is important to her that living things be given the opportunity to live their life without interference. You can read the full poem The Trees Are Down here.

The Trees Are Down by Charlotte Mew

 

The Trees Are Down by Charlotte Mew Analysis

First Stanza

—and he cried with a loud voice:
Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees—
(Revelation)

 

They are cutting down the great plane-trees at the end of the gardens.
For days there has been the grate of the saw, the swish of the branches as they fall,
The crash of the 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.

The first stanza of The Trees Are Down does not wait very long to dive into the topic. The very first line mentions exactly what is happening, “They are cutting down the great plane-trees at the end of the gardens”. By getting straight to the point, Mew is establishing that the topic is of importance to her by directly letting the readers in on her mental conversation. The details of every little sound that could be heard from the site imply that she was probably listening to the noise more than watching the scene; and knowing that she was very much against the cutting of these trees it is very possible that she felt the scene too offensive to spend time looking at it. Also by describing every sound the trees made she is giving validation to the trees and their existence, recognizing that they are more than just plants. They were living beings that had been cut down, and every sound that they made as they fell was a reminder of the cruelty they were facing. The concluding thought of the stanza states that “the loud common laughs of the men, above it all”, this is a powerful image as it is a very striking contrast to the gloomy description of the falling trees. The image also accentuates the cold and heartless attitude of the men who were cutting the trees, highlighting their insensitivity for the dying trees.

 

Second Stanza

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 drive.
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 second stanza jolts the reader into a memory of a “long past spring” (line five). Mew narrates an encounter with a “large dead rat” in lines six through eight. She claims that when she saw this dead rat she remembers thinking: “alive or dead, a rat was a god-forsaken thing/ But at least, in May, that even a rat should be alive.” This memory is relevant here because Mew is trying to deliver the message that is something as vile as a dead rat deserved a chance at life in spring how could people cut down grand trees that offer a home and shade to many as well as clean up our air to make life comfortable for us. How can people be so brutal as to kill trees in their season of full bloom, when they are of most benefit to our environment when they are the most alive? Humans are the most selfish of beings; Humans in general do not treat other living things with the same compassion they expect to be given, so as a result, the relationship between people and the environment they live in is nowhere close to being ideal. Mew picks up on this idea and is very passionate about the fact that all life should be given the chance to live and flourish, why must some things suffer for meeting the needs or wants of the others? This stanza clearly exposes to the reader that Mew felt very strongly that those trees deserved to live.

 

Third Stanza

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.
                   (Down now!—)
             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.

Stanza three is longer than the first two, mainly because of the structure. This stanza is quite broken up in terms of its sentences which resonate well with the topic of cutting the trees down. The opening line of the stanza speaks of the worker men again and how they are oblivious of the fact that they are killing these trees, they don’t seem to grasp the situation the same way that Mew is viewing it. “The fine grey rain” mentioned in line ten is echoing the mood of the situation at hand from Mew’s perspective. She uses a stark contrast again with the grey rain and the “green and high” tree to emphasize how unnatural it was to tear down these trees. The dark sky could also just be a sign of the unwanted end for these trees. The last three lines of this stanza refer back to her memory of the dead rat because in her mind they are related for the reason that she believes they both should have gotten the chance to live through spring because spring represents new life and beginnings. The last line specifically mentions that had the rat got the chance to live in the season of life than she probably never would have thought of him ever again; however because she felt a hint of injustice had been done to the rat, whenever a scene of injustice in terms of being given the chance to live and thrive in spring appears, she cannot help but connect the two.

 

Fourth Stanza

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 loveliness away
Half the Spring, for me, will have gone with them.

The fourth stanza of The Trees Are Down displays Mew’s attachment to the trees is a symbol of the spring that she held so dear. Line seventeen exposes Mew’s feelings about the trees’ relationship to spring. She proclaims that spring was not “unmade” or ruined because the trees were being taken down. Moreover, spring was “in them from root to stem” and they were “great trees” so spring was not affected by the trees going missing because it was a part of the trees whether they were standing or fallen.  Lines nineteen and twenty expresses Mew’s discontent at the workers because she emphasizes their cheery demeanor as they bring down these trees. She is not impressed that they do not realize the enormity of their actions; they are taking the life of these living things. They are killing trees yet they go about with their ‘whoops’ and ‘whoas’ conveying their indifference as they cart away the fallen trees. Line twenty specifically states that a part of spring as she identified it left with the trees; this is important because Mew didn’t suggest that a part of spring died, just that it left because wherever the trees go and whatever they are used for the spring will be a part of that.

 

Fifth Stanza

It is going now, and my heart has been struck with the hearts 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.’

The fifth stanza is the final stanza of The Trees Are Down; it is also the longest. This stanza focuses on how much the cutting down of the great plane trees impacted Mew. This stanza is full of emotion as Mew reveals how much it hurt her to see those trees go. She had known them for half of her life and they were present for the obvious literal changes in weather but also the changes in her personal good and bad days. Those trees were a part of her own personal history, a part of her past that can never be revisited or changed, so the disappearance of the trees is like a disconnection with her old life and experiences. Mew’s emotions are really showcased in lines twenty-five through twenty-nine where she paints an image of the quiet rain as though it was mourning the loss of the trees and the other forms of life like the birds and insects vacating the dead trees. The stanza concludes with her hung on the biblical reference of not hurting the trees. By ending the poem with the reference she started the poem Mew is bringing her readers full circle to show them that nothing truly ends everything has a cycle and continues to exist. What better way to highlight her message than to remind the readers that she just doesn’t want to hurt the trees.

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  • Avatar Bicho says:

    The fact that the month of may is mentioned has nothing to do with spring. Mew was a spring christian and the month of may is mentioned as it is the month of the virgin mary.

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Hey, thanks for your feedback. I think both interpretations have some merit. What is your source?

  • Avatar Buvoo Oskrabon says:

    It would be so much better If you could include the whole poem at the beginning of the analysis.

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      We cannot always do this due to copywrite laws. (if the poems are old enough we can include them). often we try and link to the poems where possible though.

  • Avatar Rachel says:

    Do you agree that Charlotte Mew is one of the greatest female poets ever to grace the earth?

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      She is amazing but I can’t look beyond Sylvia Plath with all the pain and anguish in her poetry it’s totally enchanting.

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