Brief Notes on "The Tree of Life"

  • Harihar Das discusses the poem ‘The Tree of Life’ in his book Life and Letter of Toru Dutt.

‘The Tree of Life’ is perhaps the best example we have of the mysticism which lay deep in Toru’s nature. The poem is an account of those daylight visions which come to mortals but rarely. Biographically, it is of interest as the last poem written by her. The opening line is vividly suggestive:

Broad Daylight, with a send of weariness!

It describes how, as the invalid lay with her father’s hand in hers, in that intimate, voiceless communion which the two knew and loved so well,

Suddenly, there shone

A strange light, and the scene as sudden changed.

In the midst of an illimitable plain stretched out before her eyes, the visionary saw

A tree with spreading branches and with leaves

Of divers kinds,--dead silver and live gold.

Beside the tree stood an angel, who plucked some of the leaves and bound them round the poetess’ brow, till its wild throbbing ceased. So wonderful was their effect, that she pleaded for some to be bound round her father’s brow also.

One leaf the Angel took, and therewith touched

His forehead, and then gently whispered ‘Nay!’

After Toru had gazed awhile, wondering and spell-bound at the love and tenderness in the angel’s beautiful face, she opened her eyes upon the world again, to find the vision gone, and her father still sitting patiently beside her, with her hand held fast in his. *

* With reference to this poem, Mr. Dutt copied as follows from his memorandum book for Miss Martin—it is dated as far back as April 16, 1877—‘Yester evening when the candles Toru told me, in very low whispers and with some agitation, a dream or vision which she had had the day previous about 9 or 10 a.m. She was not asleep at all, but quite awake. I know now why she asked me the evening before, where the text was, “And I will give thee a crown of life”…’ x2 (338-339)

  • Toru Dutt was heavily influenced by John Milton's Paradise Lost
In a letter that she addressed to Miss Mary Martin about the sonnets of Comte de Grammont, Dutt states, “Gramont’s sonnets are so full of deep thought and meaning they remind me of Milton and Wordsworth” (251).

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).

For the Tree of Life as seen in Milton’s Paradise Lost, see lines 216-222 and lines 411-439 in Book IV.

Milton’s ideas on the Tree of Life mostly came from their mention in the book of Genesis. (Please see Genesis 2:9 and Genesis 3:22- full text available here.)

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