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Poetry Analysis: Toru Dutt's "Our Casuarina Tree"

Updated on December 28, 2012


The tree in Toru Dutt's "Our Casuarina Tree" stands for the motherland with its giant stature. It is indented with scars that has been inflicted by the past trials and tribulations. The rugged' trunk hints at the antiquity of the culture. The tree reaches for the stars and represents the aspirations of millions. The python-like creeper stands for the cultural invasion that the country has faced. The symbol of the Python represents an objective outlook as foreigners have always viewed India as the land of snakes and magicians. It gallantly wears the culture with dignity. It accepts the invasion of the creeper and utilizes it as an embellishment (scarf) that enhances its appearance. The "gathered bird and bee" emblematize communal activity in India, as it is a conglomeration of various cultures and religions.

A creeper climbs, in whose embraces bound

No other tree could live.

By these lines, the poetess signifies that no other country could have absorbed these foreign elements and yet maintained its own identity. It wears the python like a 'scarf' as an embellishment and protective cover that only enhances it dignity. The symbol of the scarf may also refer to the concept of modesty in Indian culture where the feminity of a woman is synonymous with modesty. Flowers are hung in crimson colours all the bough along. 'Crimson' is a bold colour, the colour of festivity .The bird and bee and their songs represent the rich natural vegetation. Lines like 'With one sweet song that seems to have no close' underline the rich cultural tradition that fails to die away. It exists even while men repose .It lends the speaker an inherent delight as she opens her windows to look at it ,at dawn. It is also an abode to the animal world as the statuesque baboon rests on it at winter, and a source of amusement to the offsprings as they play on it.


And oft at nights the garden overflows

With one sweet song that seems to have no close,

Sung darkling from our tree, while men repose.

Though men go to sleep or expire, the rich cultural heritage represented by music lives on.While the earlier picture is an objective assessment of an outsider, the above lines represent the appraisal of the culture by an insider. And the speaker beholds a gray baboon as it sits statuesque watching the sunrise; while on lower boughs puny offsprings leap about and play. It marks the fusion of the static and kinetic.

The kokilas that hail the day are reminiscent of the birds in Sarojini Naidu's "Bird Sanctuary' heralding the Festival of Dawn. The rich natural vegetation is portrayed by 'pastures' and "so beautiful and vast,/The water-lilies spring, like snow enmeshed.""The 'sleepy cows' echo the tranquility of the natural scenario.

The Casuarina Tree an insignia of the Indian Culture is significant to the speaker not only owing to its magnificence; it is dear to her soul. The Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi said :"A nation's culture resides in the hearts of the people." It links the speaker with her childhood as well, where past and present are bridged. The tree is there as it brings back memories of her loved ones as are images engraved on the tree. The following lines echo Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach"; here the dirge calls out to the lost loved ones.

What is that dirge-like murmur that I hear

Like the sea breaking on a shingle-beach?

It is the tree's lament, an eerie speech,

That haply to the unknown land may reach.

In keeping with the symbolism, it may hail the freedom fighters responsible for gifting us with a free nation. It is universal in its implications as it "haply to the unknown land may reach." The universality is emphasized yet again by the words "Of France or Italy, beneath the moon," The poetess celebrates the memory of the departed souls that she commemorates in the garden. She recalls the times spent with Aru, her sister in France and Italy. She craves for her dead sibling now. In the grievance, time and space ,past and present are united by the tree. Just as the tree(symbolizing the Nation), possesses the power to unify diverse elements. This sense of oneness also symbolizes the union of the aatma with the paramaatma. This is the 'sublime vision " that the poetess talks of. It is unknown to the sense-perceptions but known to the eye of faith. Only with a deeper spiritual faith can we comprehend the same. In "Dover Beach" Arnold laments over the loss of faith. The "inner vision" represents here the speaker's insight. The 'form sublime' represents the soul of the poetess that identifies with the soul of India. This unique meeting is expressed in the lines:

Thy form, O Tree, as in my happy prime

I saw thee, in my own loved native clime.

The mortal souls are juxtaposed against the immortal stature of the tree.

© Rukhaya MK 2012

The content is the copyright of Rukhaya MK. Any line reproduced from the article has to be appropriately documented by the reader. ©Rukhaya MK. All rights reserved.

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