‘Looking For A Cousin On A Swing’ by A.K. Ramanujan is a twenty-three line poem that is separated into stanzas of varying lengths. The longest is ten lines, and the shortest, just one. The poem is simple in how it is written, and can be considered a lyric. It tells a story of a young four or five-year-old girl, on a swing with a slightly older boy.
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Summary of Looking For A Cousin On A Swing
The poem begins with the speaker telling the reader about a young girl. When she was a child, only “four or five” she would sit with her cousin on a village swing. This was an important experience for her as the “lunging” motion of the swing and the closeness of her male cousin made her aware of her own sexuality, even at a very young age.
In the second half of the poem, the speaker says that the cousin is older now. She searches different cities for a similar tree and swing. This alludes to her desire for an innocent, yet fulfilling, sexual experience, such as that she had when she was a child.
Ramanujan makes use of a number of poetic techniques within ‘Looking For A Cousin On a Swing’. These include repetition, alliteration, enjambment, and allusion. The latter is most clearly seen through the connection between the tree, the swing, and sex. It is in the last few lines that this allusion is most prominently set out.
In the first stanza of the poem Ramanujan uses repetition in order to emphasize the importance of the word “lunge”. The use and reuse also solidify in the reader’s mind that there is more to the word than the simple movement of the swing.
Another important technique that is commonly used in poetry is enjambment. This occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. It forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. A very good example of how this technique can influence a reader’s experience is at the end of line six.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, “four” and “five” in the first line and “six” and “seven” in the third.
You can read the full poem Looking For A Cousin On A Swing here.
Analysis of Looking For A Cousin On A Swing
When she was four or five
she sat on a village swing
we climbed a tree, she said,
In the first lines of ‘Looking For A Cousin On A Swing’ the speaker begins by telling the reader about a young girl. It is immediately made clear that she “was” young, this implies that she is no longer. When she was a child, only “four or five” she would sit with her cousin on a village swing. When a reader takes the title, and the personal nature of Ramanujan’s other works into consideration, it is more than likely that he is the cousin. He was slightly older than she was at the time, “six or seven”.
It should be noted that these age ranges speak to the narrator’s faulty memory. He isn’t sure when the events he’s recalling happened. But, the ages are not important to the overall meaning.
The contact the two had on the swing is emphasized. They were “against” one another. Movement, bodies, and physical contact is highlighted through the use and reuse of the word “lunge” in lines five and seven. The word is used to refer to the movement of the swing, but there is also a second meaning.
It is impossible to ignore the sexual connotations of the word lunge, even though, in this case, it relates to young children. There is something about this interaction which, perhaps only to the poet today, makes him recall the beginnings of his own sexual arousal.
In a break from the innocent, new feelings of arousal hinted at in the first lines, the speaker recalls the words of the female cousin. She informs him, and any other listener that the two then went on to climb a tree. Also important to take note of is the shift from the third-person to first-person plural.
not very tall, but full of leaves
like those of a fig tree,
and tries to be innocent
The next two stanzas of ‘Looking For A Cousin On A Swing’ are made up of two lines each. In the first, the speaker tells the listener that the tree they climbed was not a “very tall” one. But, it had other attributes. It was “full of leaves / like those of a fig tree.” The fig tree is an important image in this piece. It is ancient and considered to be one of the earliest trees in recorded history. The tree also features prominently in the Bible as one of those present in the Garden of Eden. After Adam and Eve realized their nakedness in the garden, they used the leaves of the tree to cover themselves.
This relates directly to the third stanza in which the speaker recalls how “innocent” he and her cousin were together. Whatever they did in the tree, it was simple, youthful, and innocent, befitting their ages.
One technique that Ramanujan makes use of in this stanza that helps to develop a rhythm to the text is consonance. It is seen through the repetition of consonant sounds. For example, the double “l” in “tall” and “full”.
In the fourth stanza, the time period changes. Now, the speaker describes how the female cousin travels in various cities looking for “the swing” and trying to be “innocent / about it.” Through the word “tries,” a reader can interpret that the cousin is in fact not innocent, but strives to be. This is a hard thing to balance as the act of looking for the swing is an allusion, referencing a search for sexual interactions.
not only on the crotch of a tree
if someone suddenly sneezed.
The fifth stanza of ‘Looking For A Cousin On A Swing’ also has four lines and it continues to speak about the woman’s search for some kind of sexual satisfaction that makes her feel as innocent as she was a child. The woman looks “not only” at one specific part of a tree. Although the other half of this phrase is not included in the poem, the details that are, paint a vibrant image.
The speaker describes the kind of tree the girl knew in her past. It was one that “looked as if it would burst” under the weight of the leaves and the figs. To those who knew it, it looked as though it would all go off at one time if “someone suddenly sneezed”. This is a clear reference to sex, and the word “brood” hints at a possible desire the woman holds to get pregnant and have children.