READINGS for Process Analysis
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Unchopping a Tree

by W. S. Merwin

Discussion and Critical Thinking

What does the author mean when he says, “This is men’s work”?
What do you think Merwin means when he says, “It will lead you on to speculations about the parentage of beauty itself, to which you will return”?
Compose a few sentences in consideration of the final three lines.
You might also think about their literary and/or formatting structure and function—that is, are they lines (as in, of poetry)? sentences? paragraphs? some combination of these?
Which elements of the directive (or prescriptive) process pattern of development do you find in Merwin’s essay? Give an example of the author’s use of each element.
An essential aspect of coherent process writing is the appropriate and careful use of time, sequence, and addition transitions. Where do you find time, sequence, and addition transitions in this essay?
W. S. Merwin is a poet and displays some poetic elements in this essay. His use of repetition and rhythm are particularly notable—especially when he addresses the reader. What is the effect on you of several of these repetitive patterns?
Among the author’s other poetic elements are his use of figures of speech such as metaphor and, to a greater degree, personification. Where are three particularly effective examples of personification in the essay, and why are these effective? Why do you believe the author personifies animals and insects, relative to the purpose and theme of the essay?
Merwin’s entire essay is ironic, and never states its point outright. What is its point? Is his use of irony persuasive in making this point? Why or why not?

Writing Prompts

Option 1
Write a prescriptive process essay in which you instruct readers on how to “undo” or “unmake” something that should not have happened. You may choose a topic related to ecology, or something involving human behavior, relationships, or academic life: for example, How to Unfail a Semester.

Option 2
Choose an issue related to an environmental problem in your area. Do some research to obtain solid facts related to this problem. Now write a causes-or-effects essay in which you take a viewpoint on how the situation came to be (causes) or on the effects of the problem.

Option 3
Merwin compares human-made beauty with natural beauty in “Unchopping a Tree.” In a comparison or contrast essay, examine a natural object and a similar or related human-created object, such as a real flower and a silk flower, or the sound of thunder and sound-effects thunder in movies. Decide which you find better, and your reasons for your belief, and use these as the rough versions of your thesis and supporting points.

Comprehension Check

The word
simulate
in the sentence “It is even harder to simulate the latter when the leaves have become dry” means
imitate
attempt
rehydrate
repair
The word
subcutaneous
in the sentence “That for the bark and its subcutaneous layers is transparent and runs into the fibers on either side” means
external
woody
internal
various
Which of the following would be a good alternative title for this selection?
A Poem Lovely as a Tree
The Impossible Dream
The Damage Done
A Plea for Trees
Write a sentence or two that you believe expresses the main idea of “Unchopping a Tree.”
Reattaching the leaves to branches is difficult because
The leaves are too brittle and disintegrate when handled.
The leaves may no longer have their stems.
The natural bonding agent produced by the tree when alive cannot be duplicated.
Animals may have damaged the leaves.
True or false?
The main problem with re-attaching the bole to the stump is the scars the glue leaves on the bark.
Bad weather during the re-assembly of the tree
makes the smaller chips hard to identify and put back in place
will blow the leaves and twigs off again
will dissolve the sawdust
will dissolve the glues that have been used
The author implies that
Machines are the enemy of nature.
The forest animals are wiser than humans.
Humankind is too detached from animal life.
Proper care in tree cutting would eliminate his concerns.
The author implies that
Re-assembling the tree is not worth all the effort.
The re-assembled tree is at best a replica or model of the original.
The re-assembled tree is more beautiful than the original.
The re-assembled tree will not hold up.
True or false?
Life will return to the tree once insects start to inhabit it again.
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