Our Casuarina Tree by Toru Dutt – Tamil Nadu Class 12

Today we cover the Toru Dutt penned poem which is included in the class 12 syllabus of Tamil Nadu Education Board. Read on for comprehensive stanza by stanza explanation of this poem.

Our Casuarina Tree by Toru Dutt

About Toru Dutt .. Toru Dutt (1856-1877) was born in a rich aristocratic family in Calcutta. Both her parents were big names in contemporary Bengali and English literature. Toru inherited their talent in full measure. As she grew up, she excelled as poet, novelist, essayist, translator and polyglot – was an outstanding pioneer in the history of Indian literature. Born as Torulata Dutt on March 4, 1856 to the illustrious and wealthy Dutt family of Rambagan, Calcutta (now Kolkata), she was the youngest daughter of Govin Chunder Dutt and Kshetramoni. Toru had studied in Cambridge, and her literary talent had just begun to flourish when she died of T.B. She was just 21 ten. The family had settled in France by then. This autobiographical poem was published in her collection of poems Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan in 1882.  

Stanza One:

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.  

Meaning ..The poet reminisces about a tall casuarina tree that stood near her house where she grew up many of her siblings. A creeper has grown aggressively around the tall tree virtually making it invisible. Like a python, the creeper clings to the tree. From inside the foliage of the creeper hang crimson colored flowers in bunches. Bees and birds abound in the vicinity of the creeper. They can be seen dancing in the place all through the day. As darkness falls, the creeper-tree duo seems to emanate a sound that seems so sweet to the ears. The sound’s origin seems so intriguing. The sound continues deep into the night, by which time humans fall asleep.

The poet seems to have developed a close bond with the tree. The time she spent there along with her siblings has remained etched in her mind.

Stanza Two:

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.  

Meaning..Early in the morning, when the author opens the huge window, her eyes fall on the tree. The creeper and the tree appear surprisingly quiet. Occasionally in winter mornings, a baboon can be seen sitting on the crest. Its offspring play around on the branches of the creeper blow. Kokilas also come flying in to the place. Cows head for their pastures. He giant hoar tree casts its reflection on the waters of the pond. Clusters of water lilies blossom in the waters.

Stanza Three:

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.  

Meaning.. For long years in her childhood, the author has played under the causirina tree. She treasures those memories. The fond memories of the tree have emained unforgotten in her mind. However, most of her siblings who played with her under the tree have died leaving behind tragic memories. So, remembering the causirina tree brings contrasting feelings to her mind. The author ascribes the unexplained sound coming from the tree to its lament from the past when te author’s siblings perished one after another.

Stanza Four:

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.  

Meaning.. Here the author describes the way she perceives the fate of humans after death. She feels that most religions say that the souls, after leaving the body, rest in distant shores where the waves of the sea kiss their feet. The thought of the dead came to the author’s mind because successive deaths of her dear siblings had scarred her mind deeply. The author recalls her experience in the seas of France and Italy, where the ocean emits a ceaseless murmur incessantly. She feels it’s the sound of sea’s kisses for the dead. She reckons that she has also heard similar sounds from seas near her home.

Stanza Five:

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.

Meaning: In this concluding paragraph, the author gets lost in her thoughts of circumspection. She recalls the ‘deathless trees’ in ‘Borrowwale’. These trees carry the same grim burden of ‘Fear, trembling hope, and Death, the skeleton, / And Time the shadow’ as was imagined by William Wordsworth in his poem on yew-trees. Despite such overwhelming thoughts, the author pines to return to the Casuarina tree of her youth, which she hopes will be saved “from Oblivion’s curse.”.

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