- “ ‘Our Casuarina Tree’ ends the little volume. It opens with a description of the giant tree, festooned with the crimson flowers of a great creeper which winds round and round it ‘like a huge python’. By day and by night it is a centre of busy life and sweet bird-song. It is the finest object on which the poetess’s eyes rest as she flings wide her window at dawn, and sometimes in the early light
A grey baboon sits statue-like alone
Watching the early sunrise.
The shadow of the tree thrown across the tank makes the white water-lilies there look ‘like snow enmassed’. Yet, grand and beautiful as is the tree, it is dear chiefly for the memories that cluster round it—memories of a time when happy children played under its shade. The thought brings out an intense yearning towards the playmates lost:
O sweet companions, loved with love intense,
For your sakes shall the tree be ever dear!
To the poetess’s imagination, the tree in sympathy sounds a dirge ‘Like the sea breaking on a shingle-beach’. That ‘eerie speech’, she thinks, may haply reach the unknown land and strike a chord of memory there. Such a wail had always this power over her own mind. Even when heard by the sea-shore in France or Italy, it had always sent thought winging its way homeward bringing remembrance of the Tree as seen and loved in childhood.
The last verse of the poem, with its note of Romanticism, hints at a desire for immortality of verse, and ends with the beautiful line:
May Love defend thee from oblivion’s curse.
The eleven-lined stanza in which the poem is written is a new and very successful experiement.
For its rich imagery, the music of its verses, and the tenderness and pathos with which it is instinct, we would place this poem second to none in the volume (Das 340-341).
(Introductory material from: Das, Harihar. Life and Letters of Toru Dutt. London: Oxford University Press, 1921.)
- Additional introductory material in Edmund Gosse’s “Introductory Memoir” to Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan:
“In a poem now printed for the first time, Toru refers to the scene of her earliest memories, the circling wilderness of foliage, the shining tank with the round leaves of the lilies, the murmuring dusk under the vast branches of the central casuarina-tree. Here, in a mystical retirement more irksome to an European in fancy than to an Oriental in reality, the brain of this wonderful child was moulded” (Gosse, xi).
- In Life and Letters of Toru Dutt, Harihar Das notes that Dutt was familiar with John Milton’s Paradise Lost. On her reflections of her youth, Dutt states, “We used to read Milton with [Babu Shib Chunder Bannerjea] latterly; we read Paradise Lost over and over so many times that we had the first book and part of the second book by heart” (255).
(Text from University of Pennsylvania website: http://www.english.upenn.edu/Projects/knarf/Milton/pl4.html )