Submit Comment

show all (16)
There are no comments. Click the text to your left to make a new comment.

Perhaps merely generating from the title, The Song of the Redwood-Tree, the reader may unconsciously be tempted to believe that the protagonist of this work is a tree. However, on the contrary, the tree is not the central figure of this poem. In fact, the prime speaker is human: a great Native American chief. Still, the poem does not simply stop there. Apparently, there is not only one speaker in this poem, but two: the Native American chief and Mother Nature. On the surface, seems to be about an elegy for a tree that is on the brink of being chopped down. However, in reality, it is a song dedicated to a Native American chief who is being kicked out by the white settlers. Also, towards the end of the poem, one will be able to spot the irony in the work’s overall tone.


In lines 16-17 and 87-88, key references such as the “crackling blows of axes,” “sharp tongues of the axes,” “the echo of teamsters’ calls and the clinking chains,” and “[t]he falling trunk and limbs, the crash, the muffled shriek, the groan,” all denote the actions of a tree being brutally chopped down. However, the poem will soon show that this is not the case at all.


According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the Latin meaning of the term, redwood, translates to “timber obtained from the California redwood, Sequoia sempervirens” (“redwood, n.1”). On the same note, Sequoia, also refers to Sequoya, the famous half-breed Indian chief who first invented the Cherokee written language. Based on history, he was determined to keepsake the Cherokee Indian nation’s culture and language during the time the American settlers had intruded into his tribal territory (Welker). The other half of the Latin term, sempervirens, means “ever living” or eternal (Whitlow). Therefore, the spirit of Sequoya or the great Native American chief is personified through the image of a dying Redwood Tree.

The Indian chief’s declaration to his “brethren” refers to his people or the tribe. The protagonist speaks of how all the “[j]oys of the life befitting [the speaker] and brothers” are coming to an end (31). The diction, brothers or brethren, are used multiple times throughout the poem, which again, signifies 솜ㅅ the protagonist is not a tree, but an Indian chief.


This is a reference to the Native American chief talking about leaving the fields for the white settlers.


The pronoun, “they” and “them”, would most likely refer to the white settlers. As noted before, the Indian chief links the white settlers to the “superber race,” using an adjective that shows the white settlers as grandiose and more powerful than the Native Americans. Again, other word choices like “grandly” show the power of the whites while the Indian nation will submissively “abdicate” for the former. Another key word that signifies the relationship between the Native Americans and the newly arriving, white settlers is “Shasta.” In the OED, Shasta designates to “an American Indian people living in the highlands of northern California” (“Shasta, a. and n.”). When the speaker notes how he and his “brethens” must abdicate for “them these skies and airs, these mountain peaks, Shasta, Nevadas,” the protagonist slips in the word, Shasta, to indicate his culture, land, and people. All of these references show how the poem reveals the surrendering of a great Native American chief.


Another glimpse of the Native American tribe is through the images of the Dryads and Hamadryads. The second anonymous speaker makes note of the “chorus of dryads, fading, departing, or hamadryads / departing” (4). Based on the Greek mythology, the Dryads and Hamadryads are tiny beautiful wood nymphs who inhabit the trees or the forest. However, throughout the myths, these female spirits are destroyed by some powerful, male force (“Dryads and Hamadryads in Greek Mythology”). These female nymphs represent the Native American society such as women and children; whereas, the powerful male forces are the settlers. Once their chief dies, the fate of the Native American society is already engraved as the wood nymphs are forced to leave their forest. Here again, the text refers to the relationship between the Native Americans and the white settlers.


Here is the mystery. There is not only one speaker, but two. Who then, is the “I” referring to?


this speaker can be thought to be the tree or Mother Nature. It is Mother Nature or the “womanhood divine, mistress and source of all, whence life and love and aught that comes from life and live” who has the ability to see everything that evolves around her (57). As noted before, she is the one who is able to see the tribe fall apart through the images of the departing Dyrads and Hamadryads as well as the “mighty dying tree” and “its death chant” (6, 18). With a power so great as to be able to witness all that is revolving around this speaker, the reader can assume that this narrator is no ordinary being.


Again, from lines 89-92, the text shows that the second speaker must then be some sort of spiritual or unnatural force such as Mother Nature. This being sees all. In that respect, only Mother Nature or some high spiritual figure could possibly have the ability to see all of these events occurring. The images this speaker sees is through a bird’s eye point of view.


From lines 105-9, the text reveals how not only does this second speaker have the power to see the situation of the Native Americans, but she also notes the actions of others or in other words, the white settlers.


Again, Mother Nature sees how the “genius of the modern, child of the read and ideal” will be “[c]learing the ground for broad humanity, the true America” (120-22).


After reading the poem, one may believe that Mother Nature feels pure sympathy towards the Native Americans. However, that is not the case. Though she does feel sympathy and love towards the chief, at the same time, she does not exactly feel hatred or vengeance towards the white settlers either. However, in this line, one can see how Mother Nature at first, appears to take the side of the Native Americans. Diction such “indirection” and “impalpable to breathe” have negative connotations.


Although it may have seemed like Mother Nature was taking full sides with the Native Americans, she does not completely reproach the invaders as well. Even while the speaker describes the death of the tree, the men’s chopping down of the woods is “sounding musically driven by / strong arms” (13).


Again, the text emphasizes how there is a mix of emotions in Mother Nature. The “music of choppers’ axes” is seen to be “proportionate to Nature,” “more than [the chief’s] mountain peaks or stalwart trees imperial” and “more than all [the chief’s] gold or vines, or even vital air” (74, 99-101). The speaker cannot seem to make a clear distinction of her feelings towards the tree or the cutters.


From lines 120-22, the text shows how once again, Mother Nature’s tone is that of acceptance than vengeance or hatred towards the white settlers who are pushing the Native Americans out of their land. The speaker sees “the genius of the modern, child of the real and ideal, / [c]learing the ground for broad humanity,” which will ultimately “build a grander future,” the “true America.” While the second speaker or this mystical spiritual being uses diction that indicates sympathy towards the tree or the Native American chief, at the same time, she does not completely show hatred or negativity towards this new, overpowering race.


The overall form of the poem intrigues me. The form of the entire poem seems to reflect the second speaker’s feelings as well. The poem is chopped into three different stanzas. This contradicts how everything is paired into two: dryads and hamadryads, two speakers, the old and new California. The speaker also declares towards the end of the song how the new society is proportionate to nature; however, the form of this poem breaks this equilibrium. The poem is awkwardly divvied up into three randomly-lengthened stanzas with no particular rhyme scheme or meter.

1 1


2 0

A California song,

3 1

A prophecy and indirection, a thought impalpable to breathe as air,

4 1

A chorus of dryads, fading, departing, or hamadryads departing,

5 0

A murmuring, fateful, giant voice, out of the earth and sky,

6 0

Voice of a mighty dying tree in the redwood forest dense.

7 0


8 1

Farewell my brethren,

9 0

Farewell O earth and sky, farewell ye neighboring waters,

10 0

My time has ended, my term has come.

11 0


12 0

Along the northern coast,

13 0

Just back from the rock-bound shore and the caves,

14 0

In the saline air from the sea in the Mendocino country,

15 0

With the surge for base and accompaniment low and hoarse,

16 2

With crackling blows of axes sounding musically driven by strong arms,

17 0

Riven deep by the sharp tongues of the axes, there in the redwood forest dense,

18 1

I heard the mighty tree its death-chant chanting.

19 0


20 0

The choppers heard not, the camp shanties echoed not,

21 0

The quick-eard teamsters and chain and jack-screw men heard not,

22 0

As the wood-spirits came from their haunts of a thousand years to join the refrain,

23 0

But in my soul I plainly heard.

24 0


25 0

Murmuring out of its myriad leaves,

26 0

Down from its lofty top rising two hundred feet high,

27 0

Out of its stalwart trunk and limbs, out of its foot-thick bark,

28 0

That chant of the seasons and time, chant not of the past only but the future.

29 0


30 0

You untold life of me,

31 0

And all you venerable and innocent joys,

32 0

Perennial hardy life of me with joys mid rain and many a summer sun,

33 0

And the white snows and night and the wild winds;

34 0

O the great patient rugged joys, my souls strong joys unreckd by man,

35 0

(For know I bear the soul befitting me, I too have consciousness, identity,

36 0

And all the rocks and mountains have, and all the earth,)

37 0

Joys of the life befitting me and brothers mine,

38 0

Our time, our term has come.

39 0


40 0

Nor yield we mournfully majestic brothers,

41 0

We who have grandly filld our time;

42 0

With Natures calm content, with tacit huge delight,

43 0

We welcome what we wrought for through the past,

44 1

And leave the field for them.

45 0


46 0

For them predicted long,

47 1

For a superber race, they too to grandly fill their time,

48 0

For them we abdicate, in them ourselves ye forest kings!

49 0

In them these skies and airs, these mountain peaks, Shasta, Nevadas,

50 0

These huge precipitous cliffs, this amplitude, these valleys, far Yosemite,

51 0

To be in them absorbd, assimilated.

52 0


53 0

Then to a loftier strain,

54 0

Still prouder, more ecstatic rose the chant,

55 0

As if the heirs, the deities of the West,

56 0

Joining with master-tongue bore part.

57 0


58 0

Not wan from Asias fetiches,

59 0

Nor red from Europes old dynastic slaughter-house,

60 0

(Area of murder-plots of thrones, with scent left yet of wars and scaffolds everywhere,)

61 0

But come from Natures long and harmless throes, peacefully builded thence,

62 0

These virgin lands, lands of the Western shore,

63 0

To the new culminating man, to you, the empire new,

64 0

You promisd long, we pledge, we dedicate.

65 0


66 0

You occult deep volitions,

67 0

You average spiritual manhood, purpose of all, poisd on yourself, giving not taking law,

68 1

You womanhood divine, mistress and source of all, whence life and love and aught that comes from life and love,

69 0

You unseen moral essence of all the vast materials of America, (age upon age working in death the same as life,)

70 0

You that, sometimes known, oftener unknown, really shape and mould the New World, adjusting it to Time and Space,

71 0

You hidden national will lying in your abysms, conceald but ever alert,

72 0

You past and present purposes tenaciously pursued, may-be unconscious of yourselves,

73 0

Unswervd by all the passing errors, perturbations of the surface;

74 0

You vital, universal, deathless germs, beneath all creeds, arts, statutes, literatures,

75 0

Here build your homes for good, establish here, these areas entire, lands of the Western shore,

76 0

We pledge, we dedicate to you.

77 0


78 0

For man of you, your characteristic race,

79 1

Here may he hardy, sweet, gigantic grow, here tower proportionate to Nature,

80 0

Here climb the vast pure spaces unconfined, uncheckd by wall or roof,

81 0

Here laugh with storm or sun, here joy, here patiently inure,

82 0

Here heed himself, unfold himself, (not others formulas heed,) here fill his time,

83 0

To duly fall, to aid, unreckd at last,

84 0

To disappear, to serve.

85 0


86 0

Thus on the northern coast,

87 0

In the echo of teamsters calls and the clinking chains, and the music of choppers axes,

88 0

The falling trunk and limbs, the crash, the muffled shriek, the groan,

89 1

Such words combined from the redwood-tree, as of voices ecstatic, ancient and rustling,

90 0

The century-lasting, unseen dryads, singing, withdrawing,

91 0

All their recesses of forests and mountains leaving,

92 0

From the Cascade range to the Wahsatch, or Idaho far, or Utah,

93 0

To the deities of the modern henceforth yielding,

94 0

The chorus and indications, the vistas of coming humanity, the

95 0

settlements, features all,

96 0

In the Mendocino woods I caught.

97 0


98 0

The flashing and golden pageant of California,

99 0

The sudden and gorgeous drama, the sunny and ample lands,

100 0

The long and varied stretch from Puget sound to Colorado south,

101 0

Lands bathed in sweeter, rarer, healthier air, valleys and mountain cliffs,

102 0

The fields of Nature long prepared and fallow, the silent, cyclic chemistry,

103 0

The slow and steady ages plodding, the unoccupied surface ripening, the rich ores forming beneath;

104 0

At last the New arriving, assuming, taking possession,

105 1

A swarming and busy race settling and organizing everywhere,

106 0

Ships coming in from the whole round world, and going out to the whole world,

107 0

To India and China and Australia and the thousand island paradises of the Pacific,

108 0

Populous cities, the latest inventions, the steamers on the rivers, the railroads, with many a thrifty farm, with machinery,

109 0

And wool and wheat and the grape, and diggings of yellow gold.

110 0


111 0

But more in you than these, lands of the Western shore,

112 0

(These but the means, the implements, the standing-ground,)

113 0

I see in you, certain to come, the promise of thousands of years, till now deferrd,

114 0

Promisd to be fulfilld, our common kind, the race.

115 0

The new society at last, proportionate to Nature,

116 0

In man of you, more than your mountain peaks or stalwart trees imperial,

117 0

In woman more, far more, than all your gold or vines, or even vital air.

118 0


119 0

Fresh come, to a new world indeed, yet long prepared,

120 1

I see the genius of the modern, child of the real and ideal,

121 1

Clearing the ground for broad humanity, the true America, heir of the past so grand,

122 0

To build a grander future.