Reflection on Planting a Sequoia by Dana Gioia
The poem is narrated by a father who is mourning the death of his child through the planting of a sequoia tree. I found this poem interesting to read because of the irony that envelops the whole burial ceremony. In his hands, the father holds a small sapling wrapped with the umbilical cord of his demised son, who did not live long enough to grow up and become prosperous in life. In a similar way, the sequoia tree, when aged, bears no fruits. Thus, the tree is a symbol of his son; furthermore, a symbol of hope that the father has in which he wishes that the remains of his child (the umbilical cord) will become part of the burgeoning plant as it will absorb his remnants as nutrients. While the plant is growing, the father will feed the tree the unprecedented care and nurture he was to present to his child, and this willingness is displayed when he says “We will give you what we can—our labor and our soil.” As time progresses, the father hopes that the plant, which is now part of his child and he a part of it, will outlive his family – the “unborn brothers”, “every niece and nephew”, and the family’s house as well. In the dad’s opinion, the act of planting a tree is compensating for the early death of the child – an act of rebellion against the authority of God - so that the boy lives on, as a sort of reincarnated version in the tree. And we get the sensation of this everlasting life in many stanzas throughout the poem. The writer, Dana Gioia, contributes to the overall theme of somberness and darkness by using expressions like “rain blackened the horizon” and “the sky above … dull gray.” But she ends a couple of stanzas with phrases that instill hope in both the reader’s and the father’s mind. For example, she uses “a slender shoot against the sunset” in reference to the sequoia tree standing tall and withstanding the hardships of time. If correctly interpreted, this poem will turn out to have an enchanting effect....
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