The Tree of Life1
Broad daylight, with a sense of weariness!
Mine eyes were closed, but I was not asleep,
My hand was in my father’s, and I felt
His presence near me. Thus we often past
In silence, hour by hour. What was the need
Of interchanging words when every thought
That in our hearts arose, was known to each,
And every pulse kept time? Suddenly there
A strange light, and the scene as sudden changed.
I was awake:—It was an open plain
Illimitable,—stretching, stretching—oh, so far!
And o’er it that strange light,—a glorious light
Like that the stars shed over fields of snow
In a clear, cloudless, frosty winter night,
Only intenser in its brilliance calm.
And in the midst of that vast plain, I saw,
For I was wide awake,—it was no dream,
A tree with spreading branches and with leaves
Of divers kinds,—dead silver and live gold,
Shimmering in radiance that no words may tell!
Beside the tree an Angel stood; he plucked2
A few small sprays, and bound them round my
Oh, the delicious touch of those strange leaves!
No longer throbbed my brows, no more I felt
The fever in my limbs—“And oh,” I cried,3
“Bind too my father’s forehead with these
One leaf the Angel took and therewith touched
His forehead, and then gently whispered
Never, of never had I seen a face
More beautiful that that Angel’s, or more full
Of holy pity and of love divine.
Wondering I looked awhile,—then all at once
Opened my tear-dimmed eyes—When lo! the
Was gone—the light as of the stars when snow
Lies deep upon the ground. No more, no more,
Was seen the Angel’s face. I only found
My father watching patient by my bed,
And holding his own, close-prest, my hand.
1 For some brief notes on this poem, see this post.
2 Despite being born Hindu, Toru Dutt became a Christian. Edmund Gosse explains this, with his own Christian bias coming through, in his introductory note to Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan: "She was pure Hindu, full of the typical qualities of her race and blood, and, as the present volume shows us for the first time, preserving to the last her appreciation of the poetic side of her ancient religion, though faith itself in Vishnu and Shivahad been cast aside with childish things and been replaced by a purer faith" (xi-xii).
3 Toru Dutt died prematurely at the age of twenty-one. Gosse comments on this in his introduction: In November 1873 they went back again to Bengal, and the four remaining years of Toru's life were spent in the old garden-house at Calcutta, in a feverish dream of intellectual effort and imaginative production. When we consider what she achieved in those forty-five months of seclusion, it is impossible to wonder whether the frail and hectic body succumbed over so excessive a strain (xii-xiii). It is difficult to exaggerate when we try to estimate what we have lost in the premature death of Toru Dutt. Literature has no honors which need have been beyond the grasp of a girl who at the age of twenty-one, and in languages separated from her own by so deep a chasm, had produced so much of lasting worth (xxvi).
Dutt, Toru. Ancient ballads and legends of Hindustan. 2nd Edition. London: Kegan
Paul, Trench & Company, 1885. 131-132. Print.