Planting a Sequoia

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Planting a Sequoia - Commentary ‘Planting a Sequoia’ by Dana Gioia is a father planting a sequoia tree to mark the death of his first born infant son. Upon reading the title, I guessed that the poem would focus on appreciating nature and sequoia trees. I was dramatically incorrect. However, my first impressions after reading the entire poem was that it was quite upsetting although towards the end, the tree becomes a symbol of how ‘good things’ can still take place after ‘bad things’ in someone’s life. The most noticeable feature of the poem at first was the apostrophe, that is, the poem seemed to be addressed to the tree being planted. The poem has a definite structure, 5 stanzas with 5 lines each, but no rhyme scheme or rhythm. In my opinion, the lack of a rhyme scheme represents how unpredictable life is. The speaker is a father who is addressing a tree and telling it the story of why he is planting it and what it’s purpose of entering this world is. The speaker refers to a Sicilian tradition where a father plants an olive or fig tree to mark the birth of his first born son. Olive and fig trees are small, short trees that bear fruits while sequoias are tall, fruitless trees and so it is fitting that the speaker, to mark the death of his son instead of birth, plants a tree that is in a way the opposite of the trees planted to mark a son’s birth. Although the poem never actually states that the speaker is the father and not the mother, it is safe to conclude that it is indeed the father as it is the father who plants the tree in the Sicilian tradition. The tone of this poem changes as the poem progresses, it starts of mournful, “rain blacked the horizon”; leading into wistful, “I would have done the same, proudly laying new stock into my father’s orchard” and finally, towards the end, there is a hopeful tone, “when our family is no more … I want you to stand

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