Introduction

In this poem, Toru Dutt talks at length about a casuarina tree that used to be in her childhood garden. She celebrates the beauty and majesty of this tree, and remembers happy childhood memories associated with it. Finally, she tries to immortalize the casuarina tree through the power of her poetry and love. The poem is of fifty-five lines, divided into five stanzas. The rhyme scheme of each stanza is ABBACDDCEEE.

Stanza 1

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 poet describes a Casuarina tree. She says that a creeper, like a huge python, winds round and round the rugged trunk of the tree which is marked deep with scars. The creeper climbs up to its very top near the stars. No other tree could survive this creeper. But the giant casuarina tree bravely wears the creeper as if it were a scarf.

Crimson flowers bloom in groups in the branches where all day birds and bees gather. And at night in the garden, a sweet song that seems to have no end is sung in the dark from this tree, while men sleep. The poet describes the casuarina tree in this stanza.

Stanza 2

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.

When the poet throws her window wide open at dawn, her eyes are delighted to see the casuarina tree. Sometimes, mostly in winter, a gray baboon sits statue-like alone on top of the tree, watching the sunrise. On the lower branches, his little babies leap about and play. Far and near kokilas hail the day while sleepy cows go to their pastures. The casuarina tree casts a shadow on the big tank by the beautiful and vast hoar tree. Here, water-lilies bloom like snow. The poet narrates the various sights she has seen on and near the casuarina tree.

Stanza 3

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. 

But the Casuarina tree is not dear to the poet’s soul just because of its magnificence. She has played beneath it many years ago with sweet companions whom she really loved. The tree will always be dear to her for their sake. The tree appears in her memory along with her old companions’ images and this makes hot tears fall from the poet’s eyes.

Her friends are now dead, which is why the memory is so sad to her. She hears a mournful murmur like the sea against a pebbled beach. She says is the tree’s lament, a ghostly speech that may by chance reach the unknown land. She feels as though the tree is mourning her dead friends too.

Stanza 4

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.  

The poet says that the lament might be unknown, but it is familiar to those faithful to the tree and the memories made beneath it. She has heard that wail in faraway distant lands by sheltered bays. She has heard it when the water-spirit slept in his cave and the waves gently rolled against the classic shore of France and Italy, beneath the moon when the earth was dreamlessly sleeping.

And every time the poet heard this music, she saw a sublime form in her inner vision. This form was that of the casuarina tree in the happy days of her youth. She saw the tree in her beloved native climate. Therefore, even when she is far away from home, the image of the casuarina tree brings great comfort to her.

Stanza 5

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.

Therefore, the poet would eagerly create something for the tree’s honour. The tree was loved by companions who were dearer to her than life, but they are now dead. When the poet dies, she wants the casuarina tree to be counted among deathless trees such as those in Borrowdale. This refers to the trees of Borrowdale that have been immortalized in poetry by William Wordsworth.

Wordsworth wrote these lines for their awful branches- “Fear, trembling Hope, and Death, the skeleton,/ And Time the shadow;” The poet says that although her poetry for the beauty of the casuarina tree is weak compared to that of a great poet’s like Wordsworth’s, she will eagerly repeat it. She wishes that the power of love will defend the casuarina tree from oblivion’s curse, or from being forgotten forever.

Conclusion

In this poem, a casuarina tree becomes the reminder of the poet’s childhood and the happiness she experienced with people who are now long gone. Even though she is far away from home and the tree, its memory continues to bring comfort to her, and she wishes for the world to remember her beloved casuarina tree forever.

Further Reading