H Henry Cuyler Bunner

The Heart of the Tree by Henry Cuyler Bunner

‘The Heart of the Tree’ by Henry Cuyler Bunner describes the long-lasting, civic good one participates in when planting trees in one’s neighborhood. 

‘The Heart of the Tree’ by Henry Cuyler Bunner is a three-stanza poem that is separated into sets of nine lines. Each of the stanzas follows a particular rhyme scheme that is exceptionally consistent in its structure. The pattern proceeds as follows: ababbccaa adaddeeaa afaffggaa. Bunner, has chosen to utilize the end rhyme of “-ee” a number of times throughout this piece. This has been done in an attempt to unify the poem. It also acts as a path for readers to follow from the beginning to the end. One will come to expect the rhymes and will be reassured that all is well when they arrive. 

The poet also uses another technique to craft a sense of continuity in this piece, the repetition of the first line of each stanza. The starting line, “What does he plant who plants a tree?” Is repeated at the beginning of each set of nine lines.

The Heart of the Tree by Henry Cuyler Bunner



The Heart of the Tree’ by Henry Cuyler Bunner describes the long-lasting, civic good one participates in when planting trees in one’s neighborhood. 

The poem begins with the speaker asking the most important question of the poem, what does it mean to plant a tree? This speaker wants to understand the full range of possibilities. The following lines, and the rest of the poem, do their best to answer this question. The speaker comes to the conclusion that trees are planted with only the best intentions in mind. They’re like monuments to heaven, and homes for mother birds who sing in the twilight.

He also describes them as being a path to immortality. One who plants a tree is assuring that those in the future who appreciate it, will have him to thank. In the final lines, the speaker comes to his final conclusion that planting a tree is done only for the civic good of a community. 


Analysis of The Heart of the Tree

Stanza One

What does he plant who plants a tree?

He plants a friend of sun and sky;

He plants the flag of breezes free;

The shaft of beauty, towering high;

He plants a home to heaven anigh;

For song and mother-croon of bird

In hushed and happy twilight heard—

The treble of heaven’s harmony—

These things he plants who plants a tree.

The speaker begins ‘The Heart of the Tree’ by asking a seemingly straight forward, if someone strange, question. This question, which is to be repeated two more times, is the heart of the poem. The poet is hoping, through the probing and analysis done by his speaker, to come to an understanding of what it means to imbue a thing with life, and watch it grow on its own. 

The first line is used to ask the question, “What does he plant who plants a tree?” In more simple terms, the speaker is asking what does it mean when one plants a tree? What are the consequences and what are the benefits? The following lines do their best to provide a well-rounded, and in-depth answer to this question. The speaker responds to his own inquiry by stating that one who plants a tree is planting a “friend of sun and sky.” The tree is not a friend of the planter, but of those things to which it is really beholden. As the lines come, the speaker jumps from idea to idea of what it means to grow a tree and what it could represent. 

The third and fourth lines describe the tree as being “the flag of breezes free.” The tree is a monument to beauty, that towers above all humankind. It is so great in its height, it comes close, or “anigh” to heaven. The tree has no sins or downfalls, it could be a real “home to heaven.” 

The speaker continues on to describe the tree as being a possible home for mother birds and their young, in which they can be heard singing during the “happy twilight.” This combination, twilight, bird song, and the tree itself are the embodiment of heaven. The final line concludes these ideas of a tree by stating that “These things” are what one is getting if a tree is planted. 


Stanza Two

What does he plant who plants a tree?

He plants cool shade and tender rain,

And seed and bud of days to be,

And years that fade and flush again;

He plants the glory of the plain;

He plants the forest’s heritage;

The harvest of a coming age;

The joy that unborn eyes shall see—

These things he plants who plants a tree.

The second stanza begins the same as the first, with the thematic question. In this stanza, the speaker starts his answer off by describing the tree as being a place to find “cool shade” and “tender rain.” It is here, beneath the tree, that one will find “seed and bud.” It will show one the future of “days to be,” in the seedlings that grow around it. One will see, in the earth, the possibilities of the “years that fade and flush again.” All the ups and downs of the future are realized in this place. 

The second half of the stanza describes how the planting of the tree is like planting “the glory of the plain.” One is doing something simple and fairly common, but also participating in the heritage of the forest. One makes themselves an integral part of the “coming” days. 

At this point the poet is seemingly using his speaker to encourage those who might be in doubt about the worth of the tree, to see it as being a vehicle to immortality. One who plants a tree will be bestowing the word with a “joy.” Those who are yet to be born will appreciate this past act. 


Stanza Three

What does he plant who plants a tree?

He plants, in sap and leaf and wood,

In love of home and loyalty

And far-cast thought of civic good—

His blessings on the neighborhood,

Who in the hollow of his hand

Holds all the growth of all our land—

A nation’s growth from sea to sea

Stirs in his heart who plants a tree.

In the final stanza of ‘The Heart of the Tree’, the speaker concludes his descriptions of what it means to plant and tree. He begins by saying that a planter is also imbuing the earth with “blessings on the neighborhood.” This person is using “sap and leaf and wood” to create a positive future for the earth. They are doing this in an effort to show their “love…and loyalty” for their home. One acts in this way because they are thinking of the “civic good” and the “growth of all our land.” 

The poem concludes with the speaker describing how a tree truly represents the progress of a “nation” from “sea to sea.” These are the ideals which one should be holding in hand while planting. 

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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