“When Big Trees Fall” Analysis of the Poem

The poem is about what it feels like to lose a loved one or someone that has had a profound impact on you. It describes some of the feelings and things we go through after a loss. The voice of the poem describes the way the air seems to become “light” and “sterile.” It’s hard to catch your breath. The air feels heavy and stale.

“When great trees fall,

rocks on distant hills shudder,

lions hunker down

in tall grasses,

and even elephants

lumber after safety.”

The poem uses “great trees fall” to symbolize the loss of a person. When a tree falls, the ground shakes and rumbles for a second. I would imagine it almost feels like time stands still for that moment. That shake and rumble is felt all around. Comparably, when a soul leaves the body, the impact of that soul departing is felt deeply and by people that aren’t necessarily there at that moment. The “rocks on distant hills shudder” symbolizes the way in which death causes people, even people far away, to feel the pain and despair of the loss. The “lions hunker down in tall grass even elephants lumber after safety” is meant to show the way some people react to loss. Loss can create fear and despair. It makes you want to run, to hide, to forget reality.

“Great souls die and

our reality, bound to

them, takes leave of us.

Our souls,

dependent upon their


now shrink, wizened.

Our minds, formed

and informed by their


fall away.

We are not so much maddened

as reduced to the unutterable ignorance

of dark, cold


The voice of the poem shows us the emotional effects of losing someone close to you. I think in this stanza, the loss of a “great soul” means the loss of somebody that had a profound impact on that person’s life. The voice of the poem explains the way that “our souls” are “dependent upon their nurture,” and when they die, it leaves us feeling small, like our souls have shriveled and shrunk.

We can’t escape having to feel the pain that comes with loss. It is part of being human. When you lose someone, it leaves you feeling full of despair and misery. It leaves an agonizing pain that nothing can heal and sometimes a little anger. It leaves a wound that will never heal only to be reinjured with the memories and regret of things left unsaid. The voice of the poem uses words to make the reader identify with the pain and despair that comes with loss but also gives a sense of slowly healing and for peace to bloom.

“And when great souls die,

after a period peace blooms,

slowly and always

irregularly. Spaces fill

with a kind of

soothing electric vibration.

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.”

Works Cited

  1. Angelou, Maya. “When Great Trees Fall.” PoemHunter.com, 1990, www.poemhunter.com/.

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