‘Our Casuarina Tree’ by Toru Dutt celebrates her reminiscence of a happy childhood in India with her beloved siblings. It was published in her collection of poems Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan in 1882. The tree is used as a symbolic representation of the poet’s past memories and the rich tradition of Indian culture and Philosophy, a prevalent idea present in Dutt’s poetry.
Explore Our Casuarina Tree
Toru Dutt’s ‘Our Casuarina Tree’ explores the poet’s childhood memories in India. Her description of the tree expresses her pride on the tree for it remains strong despite the creeper winding around like a python. From her description of its appearance, she moves on to describe the activities happening around it in the next stanza. In the third stanza, she ensures that the beauty of the tree is no more than an added gift, for her real connection with the tree lies on the numerous happy memories she shared with it. In the stanza follows, she tells how the tree manifests itself in the foreign land as she has seen it at her young age. Finally, in the concluding part, she wants to honor the tree, therefore she makes an attempt to write a poem. Also, she seeks Love’s support to preserve the tree from the affliction of time.
Form and Structure
‘Our Casuarina Tree’ by Toru Dutt is a poem of fifty-five lines, divided into five stanzas. Eleven lines of each stanza consist of an octave (8 lines), following the style of a sonnet has two quatrains (4 lines) with closed rhymes and a rhyming tercet. Thus, making the overall rhyme scheme of the poem ‘ABBACDDCEEE FGGFHIIHJJJ KLLKMNNMOOO PQQPRSSRTTT UVVUWXXWYYY’. Further, using a rhyming tercet (3 lines) rather than the regular rhyming couplet (two lines) gives the impression of overflowing which mirrors the speakers overflowing emotions towards her childhood memories and the Casuarina tree, the center of the poem.
The poem ‘Our Casuarina Tree’ in itself is a symbolic representation of the poet’s memory associated with the Casuarina tree. Using the subjective pronoun in the title suggests the ‘subjective’ tone of the poem. In the first stanza, the poet’s description of the creeper’s stronghold on the tree, and the scare symbolically represent the impact of colonialism on Indian Culture and Philosophy. The poem uses rich imagery which presents in the description of the tree’s appearance, description of dawn, and the memory of her loved ones connected with it. The metaphor used in the lines “The giant wears the scarf,” “trembling Hope,” and “Time the shadow” and the similes’ “”LIKE a huge Python,” “baboon sits statue-like alone,” and “The water-lilies spring, like snow enmassed,” that add beauty to the poem and instates the poet’s feelings.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
LIKE a huge Python, winding round and round
The rugged trunk, indented deep with scars,
Up to its very summit near the stars,
A creeper climbs, in whose embraces bound
No other tree could live. But gallantly
The giant wears the scarf, and flowers are hung
In crimson clusters all the boughs among,
Whereon all day are gathered bird and bee;
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.
The first stanza of ‘Our Casuarina Tree’ begins with the image of the tree. The poet remembers the tree being wound by a creeper like a python. Its hold was too tight for it had left the scar on the trunk. The poet further states that no other tree would have sustained this hold, for it is too strong, but her tree did. Also, the ‘giant,’ the tree has proudly worn those ‘scars’ like a ‘scarf’, representing its strength. To further describe its strength, the poet says it is filled with crimson flowers in every bough like a crown that invited birds and bees. Often at night when the poet could not sleep she used to listen to the music that filled her garden as if it has no end.
When first my casement is wide open thrown
At dawn, my eyes delighted on it rest;
Sometimes, and most in winter,—on its crest
A gray baboon sits statue-like alone
Watching the sunrise; while on lower boughs
His puny offspring leap about and play;
And far and near kokilas hail the day;
And to their pastures wend our sleepy cows;
And in the shadow, on the broad tank cast
By that hoar tree, so beautiful and vast,
The water-lilies spring, like snow enmassed.
The second stanza of ‘Our Casuarina Tree’ details the experiences of dawn which delighted the poet. Every morning, as she opens her window, her eyes rest on the tree and ‘delighted.’ She presents the picture of the changing scene with seasons. Sometimes during other seasons, and mostly during winter, she has seen a baboon sitting on the top branch like a statue waiting to receive the first array of sunlight. Whereas, his ‘puny offspring’ plays around in the lower branch of the tree. Along with this scenic beauty, the poet also experienced the ‘kokilas’ welcoming note. She has also observed the cows guided towards the pastures and the water-lilies spring under the shadow of the hoar tree, like gathered snow.
But not because of its magnificence
Dear is the Casuarina to my soul:
Beneath it we have played; though years may roll,
O sweet companions, loved with love intense,
For your sakes, shall the tree be ever dear.
Blent with your images, it shall arise
In memory, till the hot tears blind mine eyes!
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 the third stanza, the speaker turns more subjective in the memory associated with the tree. She comments on why the tree will remain dear to her always. Besides the morning bliss, the tree reminds her of the time she played with her siblings. The tree, blended with the memory of them, gives her the images of the intense love they shared, leaving the poet in tears. The poet mourns for those departed souls as she thinks down the memory lane. And, she imagines that the tree shares her lose which she hears as “dirge-like murmur” resembling the waves breaking on a pebble beach.
Unknown, yet well-known to the eye of faith!
Ah, I have heard that wail far, far away
In distant lands, by many a sheltered bay,
When slumbered in his cave the water-wraith
And the waves gently kissed the classic shore
Of France or Italy, beneath the moon,
When earth lay trancèd in a dreamless swoon:
And every time the music rose,—before
Mine inner vision rose a form sublime,
Thy form, O Tree, as in my happy prime
I saw thee, in my own loved native clime.
In the fourth stanza, the poet presents an in-depth connection with the tree. Through the image of waves, she takes us to the foreign land which is “Unknown, yet well-known” where the “waves gently kissed the classic shore”. Whenever this music of the waves touching the waves rises, it arouses the memory of the tree in front of the poet’s eyes as she has seen in her youth.
Therefore I fain would consecrate a lay
Unto thy honor, Tree, beloved of those
Who now in blessed sleep for aye repose,—
Dearer than life to me, alas, were they!
Mayst thou be numbered when my days are done
With deathless trees—like those in Borrowdale,
Under whose awful branches lingered pale
“Fear, trembling Hope, and Death, the skeleton,
And Time the shadow;” and though weak the verse
That would thy beauty fain, oh, fain rehearse,
May Love defend thee from Oblivion’s curse.
In the final stanza, the speaker wants to erect something in the honor of the casuarina tree. For those who were beloved, who are resting in peace, loved it. She wants the tree to live long like those trees of “Borrowdale” making a reference to Wordsworth’s “Yew-trees.” Also, she makes an attempt to distinguish the trees of England from the Casuarina tree, connecting to her varying emotions. The Casuarina tree stands for nostalgia, longing, and memory, whereas the trees of England reflect her isolation. The final lines of the poem underscore the idea of a poem as a written memory. The poet seeks “Love” to protect the tree and her poem from time’s ravage.
About Toru Dutt
Toru Dutt, despite having a short life, made her poetry to live long as a testimony of her literary credentials. Toru Dutt, born on March 4, 1856, was a poet, novelist, essayist, translator, and the first Indian poetess to write in French and English. She contributed regularly to the ‘Poet’s Corner’ of The Bengal Magazine and The Calcutta Review, publishing a series of English translations of French poetry between March 1874 and March 1877. Although she died at the tender age of 21, in 1876, she has produced an impressive collection of poetry and prose within the short period of life.