Posted: May 28th, 2021

The Black Walnut Tree

Dana Doherty “The Black Walnut written by Mary Oliver, concerns the narrator’s and her mother’s struggle to decide whether they will have a tree on their property cut down. If they decide to have the black walnut tree removed and sell it for lumber, they will be able to pay off their home’s mortgage; however, if they remain faithful to the tree and their heritage, they risk the tree collapsing onto their home resulting in its destruction.
The start of the poem introduces the debate outright. However, as the speaker of the piece, or the author herself, makes her case it seems rather one sided, all arguments are in favor of cutting down the tree. The tone is literal, all making reference to the physical damages that could be caused if the tree remains. The author uses diction to convey this tone using words such as “likely” and “navy’s” which add not only a casual and conversational element to the piece, but also one Of doubt.
The poem shifts as the speaker describes “but something brighter than money moves in our blood- an edge sharp and quick as a trowel. ” Here is where Oliver begins to employ figurative language as this “something” is making reference to the symbolic meaning behind the tree. As the poem mutinous the narrator makes reference to dreams of her father and her and of her mother’s willingness to crawl with shame in their “father’s backyard. Harvesting from the tree, as suggested by the piece, is a way of connecting with the agricultural ways of their forefathers. The tree is their connection to the past and the debate is not so much over the mere life of a tree, but between living comfortably and sticking to their roots. The end of the poem speaks about the tree as it continues to remain in the yard. The author describes the way her mother and her would “crawl in shame at the emptiness we’d made. ” if they were to sell the tree.

As the poem comes to a close the author writes “so the black walnut tree swings through another year of sun and leaping winds, of leaves and bounding fruit. ” This passing of time is representative of the joys and sorrows, the rise and falls of a life. They live with the presence of the tree, a life where they live in a way that remains close to their roots and their family. However, the closing words of the piece make references to the tree and the way it continues to endure the “cracking whip of the mortgage” suggesting that the struggle continues on.

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