Our Casuarina-tree

Original Text: 
Dutt, Toru, "Ballads of Hindostan -- Miscellaneous Poems," intro. Edmund W. Gosse, in Hindu Literature Comprising The Book of Good Counsels, Nala and Damayanti, Sakoontala, The Ramayana, and Poems of Toru Dutt, ed. Epiphanius Wilson, rev. edn. (New York: Colonial Press, 1900): 466-67.
2The rugged trunk, indented deep with scars
3Up to its very summit near the stars,
4A creeper climbs, in whose embraces bound
5No other tree could live. But gallantly
6The giant wears the scarf, and flowers are hung
7In crimson clusters all the boughs among,
8Whereon all day are gathered bird and bee;
9And oft at nights the garden overflows
10With one sweet song that seems to have no close,
11Sung darkling from our tree, while men repose,
12When first my casement is wide open thrown
13At dawn, my eyes delighted on it rest;
14Sometimes, and most in winter -- on its crest
15A gray baboon sits statue-like alone
16Watching the sunrise; while on lower boughs
17His puny offspring leap about and play;
19And to their pastures wend our sleepy cows;
21By that hoar tree, so beautiful and vast,
22The water-lilies spring, like snow enmassed.
23But not because of its magnificence
24Dear is the Casuarina to my soul:
25Beneath it we have played; though years may roll,
26O sweet companions, loved with love intense,
27For your sakes, shall the tree be ever dear!
28Blent with your images, it shall arise
29In memory, till the hot tears blind mine eyes!
30What is that dirge-like murmur that I hear
31Like the sea breaking on a shingle-beach?
32It is the tree's lament, an eerie speech,
33That haply to the unknown land may reach.
34Unknown, yet well-known to the eye of faith!
35Ah, I have heard that wail far, far away
36In distant lands, by many a sheltered bay,
38And the waves gently kissed the classic shore
39Of France or Italy, beneath the moon,
40When earth lay trancèd in a dreamless swoon:
41And every time the music rose -- before
42Mine inner vision rose a form sublime,
43Thy form, O Tree, as in my happy prime
44I saw thee, in my own loved native clime.
45Therefore I fain would consecrate a lay
47Who now in blessed sleep, for aye, repose,
48Dearer than life to me, alas! were they!
49May'st thou be numbered when my days are done
51Under whose awful branches lingered pale
52"Fear, trembling Hope, and Death, the skeleton,
54That would thy beauty fain, oh fain rehearse,
55May Love defend thee from Oblivion's curse.

Notes

1] The casuarina tree takes its name from Latin "casuarius cassowary, from fancied resemblance of the branches to the feathers of the bird" and has branches that lack leaves and look like "gigantic horse-tails" (OED). Back to Line
18] kokilas: koels (plural), "A cuckoo of the genus Eudynamis, esp. the E. honorata of India", sometimes termed "the nightingale of Hindustân" (OED; cf. 1826 quotation). Back to Line
20] broad tank: for storage of drinking water. Back to Line
37] water-wraith: a dead spirit, remembered from "The Braes of Yarrow" by John Logan (1748-1788) and William Wordsworth's "Yarrow Visited September, 1814." Back to Line
46] those: Toru's brother Abju (died 1865) and sister Aru (died 1874). Back to Line
50] Borrowdale: the Borrowdale valley and lake, near Keswick, Cumbria, in the Lake district, of which Wordsworth writes in "Yew-trees," the poem that suggested this theme to Toru. Back to Line
53] Toru quotes from William Wordsworth's "Yew-trees":
There is a Yew-tree, pride of Lorton Vale,
Which to this day stands single, in the midst
Of its own darkness, as it stood of yore:
Not loth to furnish weapons for the bands
Of Umfraville or Percy ere they marched
To Scotland's heaths; or those that crossed the sea
And drew their sounding bows at Azincour,
Perhaps at earlier Crecy, or Poictiers.
Of vast circumference and gloom profound
This solitary Tree! a living thing
Produced too slowly ever to decay;
Of form and aspect too magnificent
To be destroyed. But worthier still of note
Are those fraternal Four of Borrowdale,
Joined in one solemn and capacious grove;
Huge trunks! and each particular trunk a growth
Of intertwisted fibres serpentine
Up-coiling, and inveterately convolved;
Nor uninformed with Phantasy, and looks
That threaten the profane; --a pillared shade,
Upon whose grassless floor of red-brown hue,
By sheddings from the pining umbrage tinged
Perennially -- beneath whose sable roof
Of boughs, as if for festal purpose, decked
With unrejoicing berries -- ghostly Shapes
May meet at noontide; Fear and trembling Hope,
Silence and Foresight; Death the Skeleton
And Time the Shadow; -- there to celebrate,
As in a natural temple scattered o'er
With altars undisturbed of mossy stone,
United worship; or in mute repose
To lie, and listen to the mountain flood
Murmuring from Glaramara's inmost caves.
Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1881
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
2001
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