This old man I've talked about
Broke his own heart, poured it in the ground
Big red tree grew up and out
Throw up its leaves, spins round and round

I know all this and more

So take your hat off when you're talking to me
And be there when I feed the tree

This little squirrel I used to be
Slammed her bike down the stairs
They put silver where her teeth had been
Baby silvertooth, she grins and grins

I know all this and more

So take your hat off, boy, when you're talking to me
And be there when I feed the tree
Take your hat off, boy, when you're talking to me
And be there when I feed the tree

This old man I used to be
Spins around, around, around a tree
Silver baby, come to me
I'll only hurt you in my dreams

I know all this and
I know all this and
I know all this and more

So take your hat off, boy, when you're talking to me
And be there when I feed the tree
Take your hat off when you're talking to me
And be there when I feed the tree


Lyrics submitted by spliphstar

Feed the Tree song meanings
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26 Comments

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  • +4
    General Comment

    [Quote from SongFacts] Tanya Donnely was quoted in The Illinois Entertainer as saying this song was about commitment and respect. The metaphor is the tree that would be planted on large farms as a point of reference to getting around (the only tree sometimes). Because nothing would grow under the large tree, the family would be buried under it. Hence: "Take your hat off, boy when you're talking to me and be there when I feed the tree."
    [End Quote]

    oggy07on April 07, 2008   Link
  • +4
    General Comment

    The narrator is saying that the old man is her ancestor, likely her father or grandfather. She used to be a part of him, genetically and figuratively as in "when I was a glimmer in my dad's eye."

    She and the person spoken to now live on her family farm. The person spoken to never met the father/grandfather, thus "This old man I've talked about."

    She was figuratively a little squirrel as a child, climbing the stairs with her bike in order to ride down the stairs. As a child, she was proud of her silver tooth and grinned to show it off.

    In her old age, she wants to return to the girl she once was, baby silvertooth/silver baby. She won't hurt her youthful self except for reliving those memories of daring do.

    The boy spoken to is either her husband who will inherit her family's farm upon her death or, more likely in my opinion, her son who will continue the farm after she is gone. She is asking him to treat the home place, and by extension, treat her and her fore bearers, with respect after she is gone.

    At least, that's my opinion. Great song.

    meamrodon February 12, 2016   Link
  • +2
    General Comment

    feed the tree = death

    incubus421on March 11, 2003   Link
  • +2
    General Comment

    The lyrics are quite surreal and there's an almost dark and sinister sound to the music, in my opinion, until the chorus kicks in. I think there's a supernatural hint -- the repeated lines of "the old man I used to be," "the little squirrel I used to be" makes me think of reincarnation. I think the song's from the point of view of a very old soul, demanding the respect for everything they've learned and know from their years on the planet. "Be there when I feed the tree," so that the knowledge can be passed along.

    Dokuroon May 10, 2007   Link
  • +2
    General Comment

    I always thought "feed the tree" was a reference to the Larry Niven novel "The Integral Trees" where "feeding the tree" was a reference to death (among other things).

    Oggy's more definitive answer gives the same basic meaning, but from a different source.

    corichon August 08, 2008   Link
  • +2
    General Comment

    I love this song - I love the energy I feel from the music and the imagery I get from the lyrics. I always wondered what it was about - my husband thought about death from 'feed the tree.' I thought respect and commitment - 'take your hat off...and be there....." I thought too about personal growth or reincarnation - with 'this old man I used to be... For me the song is magical - I think genius too - there are so many ways to interpret it -

    shelsanon September 08, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    Its not so much about death as it is about devotion and respect. Old fashioned values. Take your hat off(have some manners) Will you be there when I feed the tree= Will you be there when I die.

    DecemberGuyon April 01, 2006   Link
  • +1
    Song Meaning

    I know Tanya's confirmed the death thing which makes it kind of official. However, I much prefer to interpret feed the tree as giving birth. Be there when I give birth, feeding the family tree. The tree of life. 'Being there' is everything.

    yangtzeon March 04, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    I think I read once that "feeding the tree" was a Southern US expression for being buried. Graves were often located near trees, and as a body decomposes, it could literally provide nutrients for the tree. The expression is similar to "pushing up daisies."

    ragnar704on July 15, 2012   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    No one deals with the "silver baby come to me (if it is the narrator, she would be talking to herself), I'll only hurt you in my dreams.". Death hurts, jack. If you've not seen it up close and personal, your time is coming. I like the singer's voice and the music, but there is something evil about that line. I thought it is about a child molester...."old man", "broken heart" (badly functioning conscience?), wants to hurt a child in his dreams? There is more to the real meaning than the performer is letting on.

    Further, the old man is not the little girl."This old man I've talked about.....". Later it says "old man I used to be....". It is inconsistent without some over-arching theme, such as there was an old man, you were like him and now are not. The old man is calling the little girl and says "I'll only hurt you in MY dreams", not "your dreams". So it is NOT about a kid being afraid of death. Clearly the old man is saying he thinks about hurting her in his dreams.

    In general, I find that song lyrics often do not fit what the authors claim they mean. Often, they attribute some amazing meaning behind pathetically weak lyrics. There is something dark about this song, she may not feel comfortable relating.

    kenfo00on October 28, 2011   Link

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