‘The Trees’ by Rush (1978): A Keen Metaphor Wrapped In A Brilliant Song

It’s been a while since I’ve written a music post so I hope this one doesn’t disappoint. A few weeks ago, a dear friend recommended I listen to a track from Rush’s 1978 album Hemispheresentitled “The Trees” (I’ve always wanted to call someone a “dear” friend). When I finally got around to listening to it and perusing the lyrics I was really intrigued. Obviously the quality of the music itself is pretty subjective, but I thought it was great. What really stood out though, were the lyrics.

One of my favorite classic books is Animal Farm by George Orwell, which brilliantly communicated a broad political message through allegory. Rush does the same, only using trees instead of animals and doing it in four minutes and forty-five seconds instead of 141 pages. The band has denied any hidden meaning, explaining that the idea came from a silly comic book strip, but it’s pretty obvious they delivered a poignant message.

I don’t mind artists making political messages in their music, but if I don’t like it then I won’t listen to them anymore (e.g., Greenday). Below are the lyrics from Rush’s “The Trees,” and below them I’ve embedded a video with the music and lyrics. I’ll let you make up your own mind. What do you think?

There is unrest in the forest,
There is trouble with the trees,
For the maples want more sunlight
And the oaks ignore their pleas.

The trouble with the maples,
(And they’re quite convinced they’re right)
They say the oaks are just too lofty
And they grab up all the light.
But the oaks can’t help their feelings
If they like the way they’re made.
And they wonder why the maples
Can’t be happy in their shade.

There is trouble in the forest,
And the creatures all have fled,
As the maples scream “Oppression!”
And the oaks just shake their heads

So the maples formed a union
And demanded equal rights.
“The oaks are just too greedy;
We will make them give us light.”
Now there’s no more oak oppression,
For they passed a noble law,
And the trees are all kept equal
By hatchet, axe, and saw.

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12 thoughts on “‘The Trees’ by Rush (1978): A Keen Metaphor Wrapped In A Brilliant Song

  1. Great song! Rush is very out-there/progressive, and that is most obvious in the sudden shifts in musical style within the song. If nothing else, the song is enjoyable purely from that standpoint.

    As far as the lyrics go, it could have to do with the past history of Canada being under British rule (Rush is a Canadian band). Canada is the maples and Britain is the oaks.

    The band says that there is not really a deep message in the song (see the link below), but they might just be saying that so that people can still interpret it in their own ways.


  2. Canada uses the Maple on their flag which would lead one to think you’re spot on, but they gained their independence from Britain way back in 1863, more than 100 year before the song came out. I think the band was making a broader political point about the oppression of large government, rather than anything case specific, but your viewpoint is as valid as mine.

    I totally agree with your last paragraph and even hyperlinked to the same website you linked to.

    • Basically all you did was embed a video of the song. You did not really delve into the meaning of the song but rather superficially mention the obvious. I apologize but I fail to see the relevance of this blog.

  3. I was always under the impression that the Maples represented Quebec or Parti Québécois. The song was written after Parti Québécois came to power in the 1976 election and before the 1980 Quebec referendum, so I could see this as being pretty relevant at the time, I suppose. I heard this or read this somewhere when I was a kid, but I don’t remember where. Obviously, it’s not very literal or anything. It’s general enough that you could see it as a metaphor for a bunch of different things, but I can kind of buy the idea that the Maples (the maple originally being a symbol of Quebec) could be Quebec or PQ and the Oaks could be Anglo Canada or the Federalists.

  4. The allegory is there if you think about it, but I think a lot of people just like the silliness of the lyrics and don’t think too much about it. Personally, I like Ryan’s interpretation of it, but that’s just me, eh?

    Also it’s hard to believe this is only a three piece band.

    Mike G. Clemson fan

  5. Fascinating post and replies. I grew up listening to Rush and always loved the thoughtful lyrics. The band acknowledges Ayn Rand and frequently embraces her philosophy via allegory (Freewill). I’ve always interpreted Trees as pointing out the folly of socialist revolution. In the allegory, sunlight = wealth. Oaks are the rich who consider their gains to be a product of their inherent merit, while Maples consider their misfortune to be a product of Oaks’ greed. “Hatchet, Axe, and Saw” are the revolution bringing equality. However the equality is that all are cut down to stumps. This is fairly well the economic result of communism.

    However, reading the other replies, I see how different interpretations of the allegory could also reasonably be made.

    • Thanks for the great comment. I have the same interpretation as you, except I wouldn’t say cut down to a stump, but just cut down to size so that nobody is taller than the shortest tree.

  6. This 1978 Classic from the Iconic Canadian Band RUSH (I grew up idolizing) could be possibly considered as we Americans, in 2016, have found our country in such a polarized economic, social & political existence. Our present brand of capitalism has largely created our angry polarized environment , as reflected between the Maples and the Oaks. I feel that Government is portrayed by the Hatchet, Axe & Saw. Three governing bodies hold power over all that reside in the forest.(socialism) Do we, as Americans really feel our forefathers would want that? Is larger government what we, as Americans, really desire? I do not!

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