About the Poet:
Toru Dutt was born in Calcutta. She was educated in Europe. She had good knowledge of French. She deeply loved the legends of India which her mother used to tell the children. She wrote poems about them. Her poem ‘Savitri is quite famous.
Toru Dutt or Torulata Dutt had a rich and respectable ancestry. She came of the famous Dutt family of Rambagan in Calcutta. The Dutts were important people in Calcutta. Toru’s father, Govind Chandra Dutt was well-to-do, a good linguist, and a cultured man with literary taste and generous impulses. Her mother was a sweet and lovable women with a deep interest in Hindi myths. Govind Chandra Dutta became a Christian when Toru was only six years old. Toru was the youngest of the three first children of Govind Chandra Dutt. Govind thus wrote of Toru:
Puny and elf-like, with disheveled tresses. Self-willed and shy, ne’er heeding that I call. Intent to pay her tenderest addresses, To bird and cut-but most intelligent.
Toru’s brother, Abju, died in 1865, the family left for Europe, and Toru and her sister, Aru, went to a French school at Nice for a time. The girls translated French lyrics into English verse. Aru died of consumption in 1874.
Toru had written poems in French and she brought out an English version, Sheaves Gleaned in French Fields. Her translations from Vishnu Puran and other Sanskrit classics were included in Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan
Toru Dutt was a remarkable person. She was Hindu by race and tradition, an English woman by education, a French woman at heart. She was a poet in English but a prose-writer in French. Though she was educated in England, she had a deep respect for Indian culture and tradition. She studied Sanskrit. Though she wrote in English, she gave expression to her characteristic Indian sensibility. She died at the age of twenty-one. Her poetry gave great promise. She had the distinction of being the first Indian poet writing in English to be praised by critics in the west. She belongs to the small class of woman who have written English verse that can stand.
The poem Our Casuarina Tree by Toru Dutt is centred round that tree in their garden. It calls up old memories and makes the poetess sad. A sadness rises from the tree too. The poetess first thinks of the beauty of the tree and its scene. Then she thinks of the good old days when she played under it with her friends. Her sadness is touching. She feels that the tree is lamenting. The lamentation reach some other country too. Thus the poem has the joy and also the sorrow caused by old memories. The tree is their source.
Critical Appreciation – Our Casuarina Tree
“Our Casuarina Tree is a nature poem written by Toru Dutt. Toru Dutt was a famous poet of Indo-Anglian school. In her poetry, eastern and western influences meet. This unique phenomenon combine three traditions French, Indian and English. It has left the legacy of ballads and legends in the collection of poetry which is both a cultural and philosophical anthropology and a religious and moral instrument. Toru Dutt articulates a moral vision through these Indian myths which give beauty to human life. Her poems are essentially romantic in treatment of themes and the profusion of lyricism links her to Wordsworth and Coleridge. Her nature poetry is sensuous and like Keats she combines beauty and truth.
As Prof. K.R. Srinivasa Iyengar describes, Our Casuarina Tree is more than a poetic evocation of a tree. It is recapturing the past, and immortalizing the moments of time so recaptured. The tree is both tree and symbol, and in it are implicated both time and eternity. The poem consists of five stanzas and each stanza is composed of eleven lines. The first stanza provides us an objective description of the tree. This tree is huge like a demon. It is rugged round. Its trunk is like a genus of the serpent of boa family. The top of the tree goes very high up in the sky. It seems to kiss stars. Deep scars are visible on its trunk. A creeper climbs the tree with great difficulty. This tree is as big and robust as a giant. It is seen wearing scarf of flowers. All the branches of this tree are full of crimson cluster of flowers and birds and bees are hovering around them. At night all the people are taking rest on their bed. There is perfect peace and silence everywhere. But this peace is disturbed by the endless song of a bird which sings from the dark branches of the tree.
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In the second stanza of the poem. Toru relates the tree to her own impressions of it at different times. In the morning, when she gets up. she opens the window and is very much delighted to see this Casuarina tree. In winter season, she finds a grey baboon sitting statue-like on the top of the tree and watching the beauty of the sunrise. The young ones of this baboon are seen playing on the lower branches of the tree. In the meantime. Cuckoo is found welcoming the day by its sweet song. Cows get up from their deep slumber and they are seen going to the field for grazing. The Casuarina Tree is situated on the bank of a tank. The shadow of this grey tree is falling on the flowers of waterlily and they are presenting a remarkable sight.
The third stanza of the poem links up the tree with Toru’s memories of her lost brother. This tree is very dear to her because under this tree she played with her brother and sister who are now no more. When the poet sees the tree, the image of her brother and sister comes to her mind. This brings hot tears in her eyes. Then she listens to the elegiac sound like the sea breaking on a shingle-beach. This is the lament of the tree for the dead brother and sister of the poet. This lament of the tree is very fearful. It seems to be heard in the unknown land where the souls of the poet’s brother and sister have gone..
The fourth stanza humanizes the tree for its lament is a human record of pain and regret. The poet has heard the lament of the tree from a far off place. In many ways, she has heard the lament of ghosts in loneliness. Similar is the lament of Casuarina tree. While the earth is lying in ecstasy, the tree is seen lamenting for the dead brother and sister of the poet. In the final stanza of the poem the poet describes the immortality of the tree. The poet presents this tree as deathless because it will never die. It has seen many people being born and many people dying. Thus, this poem shows Toru Dutt’s minute observation and varied impressions of the tree. What glows in it is the memory of her lost brother and sister. The poem moves from observation to impression and from remembrance to reflection. It is, in its later part, a humanisation of Nature and existential lament on human suffering and finally it becomes a wish- fulfilment for immortality. The tree becomes immortal like Keats’s nightingale. Indianness of theme, utter authenticity and consummate self. revelation reach their high water-mark of excellence in this poem. The first and the second stanzas are romantic in description, expression and selection of imagery The third and fourth stanzas are modern in their integral use of memory as a poetic device and in reflectiveness as their tenor. The last stanza is a poetic cognizance of the subconcious and the mystical simultaneity. In the mastery of phrase, rhythm, music, sound and sapping of stanzas, the poem is Keatsian.