Introduction

The poem The Queen’s Rival written by Sarojini Naidu is based on a Persian ballad in which Queen Qulnaar asks her husband Kind Feroz to bring her a rival (competitor) as she is tired of her beauty, empty splendour (richness) and happiness which is shallow. In other words, Queen Gulnaar is tired of being an ideal woman whom there is no one to compete.

The poem shows influence of Islam and Persian Literature on the poetry of Sarojini Naidu. The poem is written in a simple words. There are three stanzas.

  1. In the first stanza, Queen Gulnaar expresses her desire for a rival to King Feroz and the latter promises to bring her a rival (i.e. a beautiful maid).
  2. In the second stanza, King’s Vazier brings seven beautiful brides for Queen Gulnaar but the latter is still unsatisfied.
  3. In the third stanza, Queen Gulnaar sees her 2 years old daughter who takes away things from the former and Gulnaar finally tells her husband that her daughter is her rival and thus she is satisfied.

The poem depicts the theme of motherhood and that how lonely one feels without his/her children. Queen Gulnaar who has everything that a man/woman dreams of is still unsatisfied and feels lonely. She feels better only because of her daughter.

Let us now discuss the poem in detail

Poem

Part 1

QUEEN GULNAAR sat on her ivory bed,
Around her countless treasures were spread;
Her chamber walls were richly inlaid
With agate, porphory, onyx and jade;
The tissues that veiled her delicate breast,
Glowed with the hues of a lapwing's crest;
But still she gazed in her mirror and sighed
"O King, my heart is unsatisfied."
King Feroz bent from his ebony seat:
"Is thy least desire unfulfilled, O Sweet?
"Let thy mouth speak and my life be spent
To clear the sky of thy discontent."
"I tire of my beauty, I tire of this
Empty splendour and shadowless bliss;
"With none to envy and none gainsay,
No savour or salt hath my dream or day."
Queen Gulnaar sighed like a murmuring rose:
"Give me a rival, O King Feroz."

According the poet, Queen Gulnaar sits on her costly ivory bed. There are countless treasures spread around her. The walls of her chamber are laid with precious ornaments like agate, porphory, onyx and jade. The tissue which covered the breast of Queen Gulnaar glows with the shine of lawping’s (bird) feather. In other words, the queen has all sort of luxury and precious things around her.

But in spite of having everything, she sits before her mirror, gazes herself and tells her husband, King Feroz that her heart is unsatisfied. Hearing this, King Feroz bends towards Queen Gulnaar from his wooden seat and asks which desire of her is unfulfilled. He promises to dedicate his life to take away her discontent (dissatisfaction).

Queen Gulnaar tells King Feroz that she is tired of her beauty, that empty splendour (luxury) and fake happiness as there is no one around her whom she would get jealous of or anyone who would go against her (Queen Gulnaar’s) wishes.

There is no savour or salt i.e. troubles in her life or her dreams. There is happiness everywhere which she is tired of. And thus she asks her husband in a low tone to bring her a rival i.e. a competitor.

Part 2

King Feroz spoke to his Chief Vizier:
"Lo! ere to-morrow's dawn be here,
"Send forth my messengers over the sea,
To seek seven beautiful brides for me;
"Radiant of feature and regal of mien,
Seven handmaids meet for the Persian Queen."
Seven new moon tides at the Vesper call,
King Feroz led to Queen Gulnaar's hall
A young queen eyed like the morning star:
"I bring thee a rival, O Queen Gulnaar."
But still she gazed in her mirror and sighed:
"O King, my heart is unsatisfied."
Seven queens shone round her ivory bed,
Like seven soft gems on a silken thread,
Like seven fair lamps in a royal tower,
Like seven bright petals of Beauty's flower
Queen Gulnaar sighed like a murmuring rose
"Where is my rival, O King Feroz?"

King Feroz talks about this to his Chief Vizier and order him that before the next day’s morning, his messengers should be sent across the seas to bring seven beautiful brides for him. They should have radiant (glow) and royalty on their face. All those should be partners of Persian Queen i.e. Queen Gulnaar. The next day all seven maids (who glowed like new moon) were brought to King’s Palace.

During the evening prayer (Magrib Nimaz), King Feroz brings the most beautiful queen to Queen Gulnaar’s chamber whose eyes were like a morning star (venus) and tells her that he has brought her a rival.

But Queen Gulnaar again repeats her words, “my heart is unsatisfied“. Around Queen Gulnaar’s ivory bed, seven beautiful queens shone like soft gems on a silken thread, like bright lamps shining in a royal tower, like beautiful and bright petals of a beautiful flower. In spite of such beautiful queens around her, Queen Gulnaar sighted like a dull rose asking King Feroz where her rival is.

Part 3

When spring winds wakened the mountain floods,
And kindled the flame of the tulip buds,
When bees grew loud and the days grew long,
And the peach groves thrilled to the oriole's song,
Queen Gulnaar sat on her ivory bed,
Decking with jewels her exquisite head;
And still she gazed in her mirror and sighed:
"O King, my heart is unsatisfied."
Queen Gulnsar's daughter two spring times old,
In blue robes bordered with tassels of gold,
Ran to her knee like a wildwood fay,
And plucked from her hand the mirror away.
Quickly she set on her own light curls
Her mother's fillet with fringes of pearls;
Quickly she turned with a child's caprice
And pressed on the mirror a swift, glad kiss.
Queen Gulnaar laughed like a tremulous rose:
"Here is my rival, O King Feroz."

Times passes and Queen Gulnaar’s desire is still unsatisfied. When spring appears, breeze flows across the mountains, tulip buds burst into flowers, when bees start singing loudly and the days grow long, and when peach trees are live with the songs of oriole bird, Queen Gulnaar sits on her ivory bed with jewels on her head, she still gazes in her mirror and sighs that her heart is unsatisfied.

Soon, Queen Gulnaar’s 2 years old daughter runs to the knees of her mother. She is wearing blue dress which has gold hanging from its border. She looks like a fay (fairy). She takes away the mirror from her mother. She sits on her own and takes away the ribbon of her mother which is made up of pearls.

She suddenly changes her mood and kisses on the mirror quickly. Seeing this, Queen Gulnaar laughs like a shaking rose and says joyfully to King Feroz, “Here is my rival“. In other words, she finally finds her rival in her daughter.

Queen Gulnaar actually wanted to be a mother but neither she nor her husband could understand this. Finally she is satisfied when her daughter plays with her.

Further Reading

Questions-Answers of The Queen’s Rival