The Giving Tree

I’ve written a few songs inspired by children’s books, mostly because it helps me understand my feelings about them, and why certain books have stuck with me. For years I’ve wanted to write one based on Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, but I never found a melody I liked until now.

As a kid, I was mildly obsessed with The Giving Tree, probably because on some level it disturbed me. On the surface, it’s a simple love story about a boy and a tree. Except, as with many of Silverstein’s poems and books, he takes the premise to a grotesque extreme, until the tree is left a limbless stump, and the boy a stooped and desolate old man.

I’ve heard the book described as a Christian parable, an allegory about parenthood, a metaphor about environmental devastation, and a commentary on society’s expectations of women. I can see arguments for all of these possibilities, but what did Silverstein intend for it to be? Is the tree supposed to be a role model? If so, she seems to get the bad end of the deal. Is it a cautionary tale about giving too much? Or taking too much? Or is it just a bittersweet story about unconditional love?

In any case, reflecting on the book as an adult, I wanted to give a voice to the tree. I ended up making her bitter but also empowered.

I am the Giving Tree,
I once loved a boy
Who said he loved me.

I gave him my leaves
To make him a crown.
I lifted him up,
But he just cut me down.

Is this really love,
And is this really living?
His constantly taking,
My constant forgiving.

He took the best of me,
For his wants and his needs,
And his restless misery.

And then he abandoned me
With nothing but dreams
Of what I used to be.

Is this really love
And is this really living?
His constantly taking,
My constant forgiving.

Waiting silent in the snow,
With a tiny seed
Of hope I can regrow.

And that new life will come again,
This time for me
Not for some old broken man.

I will be all I can.
I won’t twist my life
Into someone else’s plan.
Because this isn’t love
And this isn’t living,
And I can be loving
Without always giving,
And I can be faithful
While still being free
And I am forgiving me.

What is your take on The Giving Tree? How would you give voice to those characters? And what books troubled you as a child? Please reply in the comments.