ChapterWhen Great Trees Fall

‘When Great Trees Fall’ is a poem that reflects on the impact of the death of notable individuals, drawing parallels to the falling of great trees, and the reverberating effects of their absence in the world. All you need to know and learn about this chapter is given below.

Meet the Author

  • Maya Angelou was an acclaimed poet, storyteller, dancer and civil rights activist who fought for equal opportunities for Black Americans and she spoke openly about racism.
  • Born: 4th April, 1928
  • Place of Birth: St Louis, Missouri - US
  • Died: 28th May, 2014
  • Major Works: I know why the Caged Birds Sings, A Brave and Startling Truth, And Still I Rise
  • Best Known for: As one of America’s beloved authors, Maya was known for her unique autobiographical writing style which bought her fame and glory.
Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou - Photo from Wikimedia

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Summary & Analysis

When Great Trees Fall! Alas, it is true! Even the best of trees do fall. No matter how strong, vigorous or tough you might be, death is inescapable.

When great trees fall, the animals quiver and run for shelter. That is the impact a tree has. Now imagine the impact when a great soul passes away.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil in silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When a great soul passes away, those who looked up to him or her feel dismayed, disarrayed and distraught. Sometimes a young girl or boy who loses an elderly family member or parent too feels afraid of the future.

This ICSE Summary of an English poem for Class 10 teaches young impressionable minds the impact certain life-changing events can have.

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber in safety.

Sometimes, life can get so challenging that even the best of the best feel stressed and at a loss. When big or great events occur in the world like tsunamis, earthquakes or hurricanes nobody is invincible. Just how elephants lumber in safety and lions hunker down, even the strongest man or woman has to hide for cover when faced with natural calamities.

Nothing is certain in life. Just when everything is going smoothly, you could face a sudden obstacle. A person’s life can turn upside down in a minute.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe briefly,
our eyes briefly,
See with
a hurtful clarity.

When something unexpected happens, we feel the air around us has changed. Nothing feels the same anymore. People change or friends walk away. Life suddenly takes a 360 degree turn. Sometimes things happen which leave us feeling hurt also.

However, in the end you must get clarity. Everything happens for a reason. Nothing stays the same forever.

Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
promised walks
never taken.

As Class 10 students, reading this ICSE Summary in English you too might have experienced the rigors of life. A broken friendship leaves you feeling clueless. You expected kind words from someone, you expected long walks with someone however those things never happened. Your memory takes you back to the time when you were close to someone but both of you parted ways and grew distant.

Great Souls Die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.

Old Tree
Old Tree

Wizened means wrinkled and aged. When we lead our lives our end days are filled with wisdom. When you reach your eighties or nineties, you would have seen so much and experienced so much. Great souls die. People whom you thought will always be close to you grow distant. Reality strikes. You who are now so dependent on someone will become independent. People who nurtured you, took care of you, like your parents too will leave the world one day. The old people in your family will depart.

Our minds, formed and
informed by their
radiance, fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance of
dark, cold

Prehistoric man lived in caves. Before the advent and boom of the real estate industry, ancient man lived in caves. However, no matter what happens, your mind should be radiant. Ignorance is not good. Some people grow mad with anger and hatred. Always lead your life in a beautiful, simple way.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.

When shocking things happen in your life, you might feel insecure or unstable for a while. However, after a period, peace reigns. Your hearts and souls will eventually find peace and move on. A soothing feeling can come even after the most turbulent storms or phases of life. Everything does not leave a jarring impact or mess. Even after great souls die, life has to return to normal. Things fall into shape once again.

Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.

After such experiences or losses, you vow to go on. They too would have wanted the best for you. Get better and don’t give up. They existed as a part of your life and now things have to go on. Your senses whisper to you. You can go on.

The poem is a free verse without any specific rhyme scheme. There are multiple figures of speech used here. The phrase “When great trees fall” is repeated, making it a good example of anaphora. Besides anaphora, she also uses repetition to reiterate the main idea of the poem. Alliteration also can be found in these lines; ‘fall in forests’, ‘after a period peace blooms’.

The poet uses words with capital letters in the poem to stress on the idea, for example; ‘When Great Trees Fall’, ‘Our Sense’, ‘Great souls’. This is done aiming to intensify the theme and feeling expressed in those lines.

Note: Maya Angelou wrote this poem after hearing the news of the passing of James Baldwin, writer and activist. He was a major influence on her and her writing. Both of them were part of the ‘Harlem Writers Guild’. The ‘Great soul’ she refers to in the poem is her dear friend and contemporary James Baldwin.

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What is Black American Literature?

African American literature consists of the literary works by writers of African descent in America. This body of literature focuses on their experiences, culture, and history of African Americans. It has a diverse range of genres such as poetry, novels, essays, and plays. Some famous authors in African American literature include Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, W.E.B. Du Bois, Toni Morrison, Langston Hughes, and Alice Walker.

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When Great Trees Fall Questions and Answers

Below are a few questions that you can look out for your examinations and class tests. Stand out with perfectly written answers with help of Aneetta Class.

When great trees fall, the animals in the forest hunker for safety. They are afraid and run for cover. The fall of great trees has a huge impact on all surrounding life.

When great souls die, they leave behind an irreplaceable and irreparable loss. People mourn their deaths. However, day comes even after the longest nights and life has to be restored.

This poem has a beautiful impact. It teaches us about life, loss, death and restoration. It is extremely well written by great poet Maya Angelou who has described things so nicely.