Girl Lithe and Tawny
by Pablo Neruda
Complete Explanation for the Poem included in the CHSE +2 Alternative English book ‘Approaches to English – II’.
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About the author
Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) was a thinker, writer, diplomat, and a politician — all rolled into one. He was a liberal, a humanist and a thinker whose ideas of peace and co-existence transcended geographical boundaries. He was a Chilean by birth, but being an universalist, he cared for the whole of mankind. The people of Latin America revere him as an icon, and sing his songs privately and on social occasions. Pablo Neruda started writing at the age of 13, and continued to follow his passion despite his busy life as a politician and a diplomat. He got the Nobel Prize in the year 1974. His collection ‘Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair’ continues to enthrall countless readers around the globe.
Stanza by Stanza explanation of the poem
Girl lithe and tawny, the sun that forms
the fruits, that plumps the grains, that curls seaweeds
filled your body with joy, and you luminous eyes
and your mouth that has the smile of water.
The poet comes across a young damsel gamboling in the sea beach. She was slender, hazel-skinned, and very agile. She perhaps drew her harm and youthful vigor from the sunlight that invigorates many things on the earth. The fruits grow, the whet ripens, the seaweeds curl, and bestows life and luster to every living being in the world. The girl’s eyes and mouth have a bewitching charm, and are as fluid as the water racing downwards.
A black yearning sun is braided into the strands
of your black mane, when you stretch your arms.
You play with the sun as with a little brook
and it leaves two dark pools in your eyes.
The girl has black lustrous hair made into strands. The sun seems to take shelter inside her hair, thus adding a rare glow to her mane. The girl frolics with gay abandon under the sunlight. Her limbs move with amazing grace and energy. Her charm grows manifold as her eyes appear like two dark pools.
Girl lithe and tawny, nothing draws me towards you.
Everything bears me farther away, as though you were noon.
You are the frenzied youth of the bee,
the drunkenness of the wave, the power of the wheat-ear.
Quite surprisingly, the agility and energy of the damsel appears not to be to the liking of the poet. Her exuberance and boisterousness repels the poet as being too un-restrained and wild. She appears to be too ful of energy and too youthful.
My somber heart searches for you, nevertheless,
and I love your joyful body, your slender and flowing voice.
Dark butterfly, sweet and definitive
like the wheat-field and the sun, the poppy and the water.
However, the poet is unable to free himself from the spell of the young beauty. He still yearns for her. Her shapely body, and her soft and sweet voice have got embedded in the poet’s mind. He craves for er sensuous self. She appears to be the embodiment of the beauty of Nature that we see in dark butterflies, wheat-fields, the poppy and the water.
Questions for discussion
1. How does the sun form the beauty of the girl?
Answer – The girl is endowed with rich, black hair. She has made strands with them. The sun rays fall on her hair, and vanish inside, as if to hide in them playfully. This enhances the beauty of the girl.
2. What does the expression ‘filled your body with joy’ mean?
Answer – The sun light falls on her body, and invigorates it, just as the way it provides life and succor to other forms of life on earth. The body draws its sustenance from it to blossom to its prime.
3. What do you think, is the meaning of the line “and your mouth that has the smile of the water”?
Answer – Clearly, the poet is besotted with the young damsel on the beach. Her eyes and mouth appear to be divinely beautiful, irresistibly sensuous, and extremely seductive. This great admiration for her face makes the poet to think that her eyes and mouth are playful, fluid, and bristling with life. He likens them to the flowing water that dances down a slope exhibiting its beauty.
4. Why does the poet call the girl’s hair “a black yearning sun”? What figure of speech is used her?
Answer – The girl’s black hair dazzle because the sun is inside it. The glowing black hair adds a sensuous charm to her that seems to yearn for a lover. The Figure of Speech used here is Hyperbole.
5. What can the poet mean by “Play with the sun as with a little brook”?
Answer – The girl is gamboling with no restraint. She moves her limbs with superb grace and fluidity. Since, the sun seems to have suffused in her body, when she moves energetically, it looks like a brook flowing down with rare energy and charm.
6. What draws the poet away from the girl?
Answer – Her uninhibited movements, and extreme playfulness are not to the liking of the poet. He thinks, any liaison with her might bring embarrassment and ridicule to him. So, he feels repelled fro her.
7. What purpose does the image of the bee serve in stanza 3 of the poem?
Answer – The bee is agile, beautiful, and very active. As it moves from one flower to another, it pollinates them. In this way, it helps in the sustenance of life on earth. It is blessing of Nature and a manifestation of sun’s life-giving properties. In the same way, the vivacious young girl is there to charm her admirers and help to procreate.
8. What does the poet try to convey through the images of the waves and wheat-ear?
Answer – The waves are symbols of the never-ending source of energy of the ocean. They are beautiful, unceasing, and vigorous, just the way the poet perceives the youth of the girl to be. The wheat-ears are the storehouse of food that both humans and animals eat to survive. They are golden to see, and quite pleasant to feel. In the same way, the hazel-skinned girl is so full of life and vitality, and so pleasant to touch.
9. Whose heart searches for the girl?
Answer – The poet’s somber heart searches for the girl.
10. Why does the poet address the girl as “Dark butterfly”?
Answer – The dark butterfly is a rarity. It’s considered a marvel of Nature. The poet perceives the girl as a paragon of beauty, a power house of youthful energy and vigor. So, the poet likens her as a ‘dark butterfly’.
11. What aspects / activities of the girl go towards making her lithe?
Answer – The girl gambols effortlessly in the beach. Her movements are fluid and spontaneous. Observing these, the poet terms as ‘lithe’.
12. Is the girl made tawny by the sun or was she born tawny? How do you know the answer?
Answer – The exposure to sunlight has made the girl’s skin tawny. The author frequently refers to the life-giving qualities of sunlight in the poem. The girl also spends a lot of time in the beach. So, it can be assumed that the sunlight has made the girl tawny.
[Answer to Composition questions on request]