The poem ‘Our Casuarina Tree’ by Toru Dutt is a beautiful symbolic poem harmonizing both manner and matter in accurate proportion. The Casuarina tree is a physical entity and a psychological entity of the poet’s mind. The tree reminds Toru Dutt of her childhood. In the poem, the tree also symbolizes the rich tradition of Indian culture, which played an important role in shaping the poetic and aesthetic sensibility of the poet.
In Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale”, the bird symbolizes the world of art and beauty. In Shelly’s “To a Skylark”, the bird is the symbol of freedom and liberty. In Wordsworth’s poem “The Yew Trees of Borrowdale”, where the yew tree is being immortalized since the poet has many happy memories of childhood days surrounding the tree, which is a source of comfort and consolation to him in another country in the same way as Casuarina tree. Wordsworth sanctified the Yew trees of Borrowdale as he calls them ”deathless trees”.
Similarly, in Toru Dutt’s “Our Casuarina Tree,” the tree connotes nostalgic feelings and memories of Toru Dutt. This is the tree under which she played with her beloved siblings Abju and Aru. Thus, she has happy childhood memories from her golden past attached to the tree.
In the first stanza of the poem, it is seen that the rugged trunk of the tree with a huge Python winding round the rough trunk. The huge trunk of the tree is like a huge python. The trees ‘very summit near the stars’ also tells us about the immense height of the tree. The creeper has intended deep with scars up to the top of the tree.
The rugged trunk of the tree bears the testimony of time, and the scars are the harsh realities of life. The tree is so strong that
”the giant wears the scarf……”
means that it sustains the hold of the creeper, very few trees could survive in such a circumstance. Despite such claustrophobic existence, the Casuarina tree stood determined to reach the stars.
The poet depicts the Casuarina tree trailed by a creeper hung with red crimson flowers, attempting to sap its strength. The creeper vine that bears red crimson flowers has winded the trunk of the tree like a huge python. Similarly, the young Dutt’s were in the grip of the killer disease tuberculosis.
The flowers of the tree are hung in crimson clusters, which represents life as an eternal joy. Toru says that her Casuarina tree is a shelter for gathered birds and bees. The tree is alive with the bees humming and the chirping of birds. This picture portrays free spirit, and inheritance soothes its listeners and tranquilizes men who relax and rest as the bird sings.
The second stanza of the poem presents the image of the Casuarina tree and the be gray baboon with its offspring. In winter, the gray baboon used to sit on one of the branches of the tree watching the sunrise. On the lower branches, the baboon’s puny offspring leap about and play.
Gradually, as the sun rises, the “kokilas” begin to greet the day with their song, and a mesmerized Toru Dutt watches the “sleepy” cows that have not yet shaken off their lethargy on the way to the pastures. The garden overflows with one sweet song that is sung by the tree. The poet watches all these through her casements, which are senses through which she can go back to reality.
The huge python winding round, creeper and baboon symbolize the negative forces of life. Despite all the negativities, the tree provides shelter to them all. The poet sees the beauty of their ”hoar tree” with her own eyes, and the ‘broad tank cast’ which is filled with water lilies seemed like a deep snow carpet. The water lilies spring, which is the echo of cultural exposure to western culture.
The Tree’s Lament
In the third stanza of the poem, the poet states that it is not the outward magnificence of the Casuarina tree due to which she is so close to her. Rather the tree is a memory of the looming existence of her identity. She shared how she played with her brother, sister, and friends under the tree and how her happy childhood days were spent. These memories when flashes back in her mind; it brings tears to her eyes.
The poet wishes to go back to her past and be united with her companions. She wants the tree to be persistent in her memory. She is trying to experience her own identity with each feature of the tree. The tree’s lament is the dirge-like murmur or that she hears.
The final stanza of the poem is highly philosophical. Toru Dutt observes,
“Unknown yet well-known to eyes of faith”.
Here the term “unknown” denotes not simply the native home of the poet but also the world of the departed soul. A man who has the eye of faith can see the unknown as well.
She takes us to the ‘classic shore,’ i.e., foreign shores, which is the
”distant lands by many a sheltered bay”
that is of France or Italy, where ”waves gently kissed the shores”, ”When earth lay tranced in a dreamless swoon”. This image of sea breaking evoked mourning in the poet’s mind.
In the poem, she is recalling the tree as she calls ‘O Tree’, ‘thy honor’ and her “own loved native clime”, her own native land, India. She has rooted consciousness in her Indian sense. The image of ‘unknown land’ suggests the land of death and also the foreign land.
Toru refers to the music of the tree as the music of the soul, which once attained, never dies and continues to vibrate with the highest percipience in the mind of the seeker. Whenever ‘the music rose thy form’, her ‘vision rose’ that is, her mind’s eye would see a ”form sublime”. The more she listens to the mournful song the tree listens to the mournful song of the tree, the more she can sublime into it.
Under whose awful branches lingered pale
Fear, trembling, hope and death, the skeleton,
And Time the shadow…….”
In the fourth stanza of the poem, Dutt absolutely transcends the mortal, materialistic and mundane frame of mind and attains the power of love to overcome the negative forces of life like death, darkness, terror, and fear. The words like trembling, hope, death, skeleton, and oblivion state that a man of steadfast love and devotion never fears the blows of death. She says,
”Though weak the verse That would thy beauty fain, oh, fain rehearse, May love defend thee from oblivion’s curse”,
both ‘Oblivion’s curse and ‘time’s shadow’ refer to death.
”O sweet companions, loved with love intense,
For your sakes, shall the tree be ever dear?
Blend with your images, it shall arise
In memory, till the hot tears blind mine eyes!”
Toru does not express any desire to fade “faraway” and “dissolve” even when she is constantly mourning, and her tears are almost blinding her. Their Casuarina tree does not make her long for “easeful” death. Instead, even though its “timelessness” mocks the transience of the human world, the tree is her support, a reminder of the joy that she once experienced with Abju and Aru.
The poet gives us the transcendental vision of the Casuarina tree, and it becomes an imaginary existence, a sense of belonging, power, authenticity, authority, and solace.
The poet’s words are short of describing the Casuarina tree, Toru Dutt wrote
”But not because of its magnificence
Dear is the Casuarina to my soul”
Toru Dutt’s Blending of Romanticism and Realism
It is her love that will confer the trees’ eternal identity. She is optimistic about getting reunited with the lost souls in her life. In Toru Dutt’s writing, we find the combination of orient and occidental. In the poem “Our Casuarina Tree”, we find there would be a blend of romantics idealizing the beauty of nature. The sense of belonging is invested in the poem. The sublimity of the tree in her consciousness and the strength of the tree is presented in the poem.
The poet’s inner feelings are represented through the tree. The whole scene is in tune with harmonious representation. In the poem, the tree is a nourishing psychological strength that the poet needs eagerly. On the one hand, the poet wants to live her life as a compassionate element, and on the other hand, she wants triumph like the tree.
The poet remembers the kind of serenity which pervaded her childhood and is eager to back to those times. Toru Dutt has a rooted consciousness in her Indian sense. In a nutshell, Toru Dutt’s poem ”Our Casuarina Tree” is incusing the idea of romanticism and realism.
Full Poem Recitation