The Gift of India by Sarojini Naidu is a tribute to the contribution of Indian soldiers who fought alongside Britain in World War I. It captures the selfless sacrifices of the Indian soldiers from the perspective of a mother who lost her sons in the war. India is personified as a mother. Like a war poem, it captures the brutality of war and its consequences.
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Summary of The Gift of India
The poem ‘The Gift of India’ by Sarojini Naidu sounds like an appeal made by mother India to the world to remember the contribution of Indian soldiers during World War I. It is surcharged with the emotional outpouring of a mother, reminiscence on how her children fought and died during World War I. In the first stanza, the poet regards all the benefits of raiment, grain, and gold unearthed and taken away across the world as gifts from India. The second stanza pictures the pathetic situation of those who lost their lives miles apart from home. The third stanza briefs on the grief brought home by their death. Finally, in the fourth stanza, the poet or the speaker appeals to honor the sacrifices of the Indian soldiers.
Form/Structure of The Gift of India
The poem ‘The Gift of India’ is a simple and elegant poem written in twenty-four lines, divided into 4 six-line stanzas. Each stanza of the poem is complete in itself despite its connectedness with the central theme. The first two lines of each stanza introduce an idea, and the next two lines build upon them. The final two lines serve a conclusion for the stanza. The poem follows a simple and rhyme scheme of “AABBCC” end rhymes throughout the poem.
Theme and Settings in The Gift of India
The poem ‘The Gift of India’ set on the “theme” of the unrecognized sacrifice made by Indian soldiers during World War I. Each of the four stanzas presents the theme in detail by focusing individually on the Rich gifts of Mother India, the valiant death of Indian soldiers, grief caused by the death of the soldiers, and a fervent appeal to the world to remember the supreme sacrifice.
The “setting” of the poem runs on World War I. Millions of soldiers from British India went across nations to fight and thousands of them died too. Since the warriors died miles apart and their bodies were buried at the alien/ strange land of miles apart from their home,
Analysis of The Gift of India
Is there ought you need that my hands withhold,
Rich gifts of raiment or grain or gold?
Lo! I have flung to the East and West
Priceless treasures torn from my breast,
And yielded the sons of my stricken womb
To the drum-beats of duty, the sabers of doom.
The first stanza of the poem ‘The Gift of India’ begins with a rhetorical question. Here the port personifies India as a Mother who loves and longs for her children sent to war.? The tone in the stanza reflects the disappointment and anger of the speaker. She asks if there is anything that was withheld by her such as “raiment or grain or gold.?” She has sent the priceless treasures torn from her breast (symbolically meaning the way it was taken away forcibly) to the countries of the East and the West. Moreover, she has sent her sons to the faraway lands to fight in the battle. The ‘sabers of doom’ represent the nature of the war and the destruction that could happen in its wake.
Gathered like pearls in their alien graves
Silent they sleep by the Persian waves,
Scattered like shells on Egyptian sands,
They lie with pale brows and brave, broken hands,
They are strewn like blossoms mown down by chance
On the blood-brown meadows of Flanders and France.
The second stanza of The Gift of India, the speaker, pictures the sacrifice of the Indian soldiers made in the alien lands and the horrors of war and war-fronts in a rich poetic language. The poet uses imagery and metaphor to distinguish the sacrifice made by Indians. The similes “Gathered like pearls” and “Scattered like shells” denotes the careless treatment given the bodies of the soldiers. The terms “alien graves”, “Persian waves”, “Egyptian sands”, and “Flanders and France” in the stanza explicitly present how the soldiers are buried far away from home, from their dear and near ones.
The painful image of death and suffering is given in the description “lie with pale brows and brave, broken hands”. In the last line, the poet metaphorically compares the warriors to “blossoms” and the battlefield to “Blood-brown meadows”, detailing the anguish of the speaker who realizes that they died “by chance”, fighting someone else’s war.
Can ye measure the grief of the tears I weep
Or compass the woe of the watch I keep?
Or the pride that thrills thro’ my heart’s despair
And the hope that comforts the anguish of prayer?
And the far sad glorious vision I see
Of the torn red banners of Victory?
The rhetorical questions present in the third stanza of ‘The Gift of India’, add beauty to the poem and enumerate the distress of the speaker. The speaker asks the warring countries whether they can feel the grief that she feels or the tears that she weeps for her dead sons. The speaker, despite her sadness, is proud of her sons who have fought bravely and brought victory. The poet here has given shape to the voices of countless Indian mothers whose sons sacrificed their lives in the war. Also, she talks of the small hopes and prayers some had for their sons’ safety and return since the war was still going on.
In the last two lines, the poet wonders if those people also see the “far sad glorious vision” that she sees of the “torn red banners of Victory”. The poet looks certain of the victory that would come with the efforts of her children, yet she finds no pleasure for the sacrifices that are irrevocable. The “torn red banners of Victory” symbolizes the blood of Indians who sacrificed for the victory of their colonizers.
When the terror and the tumult of hate shall cease
And life be refashioned on anvils of peace,
And your love shall offer memorial thanks
To the comrades who fought in your dauntless ranks,
And you honour the deeds of the deathless ones,
Remember the blood of thy martyred sons!
In the last stanza of the poem, the speaker throws light upon the aftereffects of the war and the process of life becoming normal. When the war is over, so will be the terror and tumult of hate; peace prevail; and life gets back to normal with a lot of changes. At that time, everyone will pay their respects to those who have fought and died in the war. The comrades will receive honored for the deeds that could never be forgotten. When such a time comes, the speaker expects the world to remember the sacrifice of her martyred sons.
Historical background to The gift of India
Historical background plays an inevitable part in understanding a literary work. Here too to understand the poem ‘The gift of India’ better one must know of the political and historical context in which it was written. Sarojini Naidu wrote the poem in 1915, during the time of World War I. At that time, India was one of the colonies of the British Empire. Thus, over ten lakh Indian soldiers fought along with the British Army in different locations of significance. Further, during the colonial expansion, India was exploited for its riches and resources. The same is addressed by the poet, in the line ‘Is it not enough that I have given everything?’. The poet has used these two situations as a background in this poem to express her patriotism.
About Sarojini Naidu
Sarojini Naidu, popularly known as the Nightingale of India, was born on 13 February 1879. She was an Indian political activist and poet. Sarojini Naidu was a prolific poet whose volumes of poetry include The Golden Threshold (1905), The Bird of Time (1912), The Sceptred Flute (1928), and The Feather of the Dawn (1961). She was the first female Indian governor of Uttar Pradesh in independent India. Sarojini Naidu passed away on 2nd March 1949, after securing an unforgettable name in the History of India.