The Black Walnut Tree Mary Oliver Summary

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In the free verse poem “The Black Walnut Tree” by Mary Oliver, the speaker and her mother debate about selling the black walnut tree in their backyard to pay off the mortgage. The poem is narrated in the first person and has a conversational tone, demonstrated by the simple vocabulary and diction, such as “we talk,” “I say,” and “she replies.” In the beginning, the speaker and her mother discuss the logical reasons for selling the tree, viewing the tree in a somewhat utilitarian manner. However, in line sixteen, the poem shifts and they discuss their emotional attachment to the tree, describing it as a symbol of the family’s history. The poem conveys the relationship between the tree and the family through the use of figurative language and …show more content…

The speaker expresses this shift with figurative language: “something brighter than money moves in our blood.” The speaker further expresses it through the use of a simile, explaining that she and her mother wish to “dig and sow” like a “trowel ” rather than cut and kill the tree. The trowel is also personified here as it “wants” them to dig and sow. The speaker dreams of her “fathers” or ancestors from Bohemia who planted “leaves,” “vines,” and “orchards” in the fields of Ohio. The dream shows that her ancestors also chose to “dig and sow” rather than cut and that the tree reminds the speaker of her family’s history. Therefore, if she and her mother chose to chop the tree down, they would “crawl with shame in the emptiness [they’d] made.” The shift from literal language to figurative language establishes the shift from a practical view of the tree to an emotional one. The speaker also uses vivid imagery, employing words with a more positive connotation, such as “fresh” and generous,” which contrasts the negatively connotated words used in the first half of the poem. The use of figurative language also draws more attention to the second section of the poem as it makes it more interesting to read. Therefore, the language highlights the importance of family over money with the black walnut tree symbolizing the family’s

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