Our Casuarina Tree by Toru Dutt is a poem of love, longing, childhood and nostalgia. This poem represents the longing that the poet harbors in her heart, for the happiness of her youth, her siblings and the different elements of her childhood. This poem is written to memorialize the beautiful Casuarina tree that she had at home in India. The memory of this tree is entwined with the memories of her late siblings, yet this poem represents the acceptance of death, and has no reflection of the gloom or sadness that is a consequence of loss.
Being intensely autobiographical in nature, this poem captures the intimacy with and a longing for the lost parts of the poet’s childhood. An important part of this childhood was Abju, her elder brother, who died at the age of 16. Toru herself passed away at the age of 21. Our Casuarina Tree is thus a poem which captures the essence of this beautiful soul whom the world lost much earlier than it should have.
Our Casuarina Tree | Summary and Analysis
The Casuarina tree symbolizes the intimate yet elusive, strong yet fragile, everlasting yet ephemeral aspect of one’s childhood and relationships. Its highly personal note endears the poem to its readers by speaking to him/her, long after it had been written
The 55-line poem is split into 5 stanzas of 11 lines each. Each stanza consists of an octave with the rhyme scheme ABBA CDDC. The octave can be further divided into two quatrains that each exhibit enclosing rhymes, wherein the first and last line rhyme, and the second and third line rhyme. The stanza ends with and a tercet with the rhyme scheme EEE.
Our Casuarina Tree | Analysis ( Lines 1-11)
Like a huge Python, winding round and round
The rugged trunk, indented deep with scars,
Up to its very summit near the stars,
A creeper climbs, in whose embraces bound
No other tree could live. But gallantly
The giant wears the scarf, and flowers are hung
In crimson clusters all the boughs among,
Whereon all day are gathered bird and bee;
And oft at nights the garden overflows
With one sweet song that seems to have no close,
Sung darkling from our tree, while men repose.
The first stanza begins with a description of the tree, though not directly the tree itself. The poet describes its strength through the visual of a huge creeper that climbs up the Casuarina. The tree is old, full of nicks and knots, but still tall and strong. It wears the creeper like a scarf, winning over something that would crush any other tree.
It is the season of flowering, so rich red blooms are scattered across the boughs. Birds and bees are attracted and are always hovering about this tree. The tree belongs in the garden and sings sweetly as the people of the house sleep peacefully. This sweet song has no end, which shows that there is no end to the life of this tree that may have been there since the birth of the poet.
The stanza provides a description of the gentleness and strength that is combined in the tree, and simultaneously pushes a feeling of relaxation and beauty, of springtime and new life.
In this stanza, the device simile is used in “like a huge python”
Alliteration is shown in “round and round”, “bird and bee”, “sweet song”.
Our Casuarina Tree | Analysis (Lines 12-22)
When first my casement is wide open thrown
At dawn, my eyes delighted on it rest;
Sometimes, and most in winter, – on its crest
A gray baboon sits statue-like alone
Watching the sunrise; while on lower boughs
His puny offspring leap about and play;
And far and near kokilas hail the day;
And to their pastures wend our sleepy cows;
And in the shadow, on the broad tank cast
By that hoar tree, so beautiful and vast,
The water-lilies spring, like snow enmassed.
The first thing that the poet sees every morning when she opens her windows is the gorgeous casuarina tree, and it is a beautiful greeting. Though the seasons change, the tree remains constant. In the winter, there is a baboon that sits contemplatively, and monkeys play around. The Koel birds sing the praises of the morning, and the cows go to their pastures. The giant tree’s shadows protect the water lilies and help them grow. The tree is never alone, and provides rest and protection for many, as well as being pleasing to the eye.
This stanza shows us that the tree is always in use somehow or another and provides a space for relaxation and enjoyment. The memory of the tree is one of nostalgia and happiness, and the poet loves the tree and the life it supports.
Here, simile is used in “sits statue-like alone”
Our Casuarina Tree | Analysis (Lines 23-33)
But not because of its magnificence
Dear is the Casuarina to my soul:
Beneath it we have played; though years may roll,
O sweet companions, loved with love intense,
For your sakes, shall the tree be ever dear.
Blent with your images, it shall arise
In memory, till the hot tears blind mine eyes!
What is that dirge-like murmur that I hear
Like the sea breaking on a shingle-beach?
It is the tree’s lament, an eerie speech,
That haply to the unknown land may reach.
However, the poet clarifies that this tree is not loved because of it size or beauty. Those are not its most important characteristics, and its beauty is more than skin deep, as one says. The casuarina is part of the poet’s childhood and is integral to her soul. The tree was the spot for her and her siblings, and these lovely memories maintain the tree in her mind. For the poet, this is not just a casuarina tree, but a time capsule of the relationships and fun she had in her childhood. These two memories are blended forever and brings back the image of her siblings before their deaths. These images bring her to tears, and this tree represents the strength of family and the intense love she feels for her siblings.
The mourning of her heart is reflected in the mourning of the tree. This lament reaches far and wide, as the tree also remembers the children who used to play around her. The shade and constancy of that beautiful tree is no longer part of the lives of those who have passed on from this world, and so the poet and the Casuarina mourn in tandem.
Our Casuarina Tree | Analysis (Lines 34-44)
Unknown, yet well-known to the eye of faith!
Ah, I have heard that wail far, far away
In distant lands, by many a sheltered bay,
When slumbered in his cave the water-wraith
And the waves gently kissed the classic shore
Of France or Italy, beneath the moon,
When earth lay trancèd in a dreamless swoon:
And every time the music rose, – before
Mine inner vision rose a form sublime,
Thy form, O Tree, as in my happy prime I saw thee, in my own loved native clime.
The mourning of the tree is a new sound, one that is unknown, but it is one that can be recognized by the power and strength of connection between the poet and her childhood. She has heard this lament when she was away, and when she was far away in different lands, a ghost of the sound followed her. This sound brought back the rich memories of her childhood and helped her build a visual of the tree outside her window, as she used to see it when she was happiest, in her own home.
Our Casuarina Tree | Analysis (Lines 45-55)
Therefore I fain would consecrate a lay
Unto thy honor, Tree, beloved of those
Who now in blessed sleep for aye repose, –
Dearer than life to me, alas, were they!
Mayst thou be numbered when my days are done
With deathless trees – like those in Borrowdale,
Under whose awful branches lingered pale
“Fear, trembling Hope, and Death, the skeleton,
And Time the shadow;” and though weak the verse
That would thy beauty fain, oh, fain rehearse,
May Love defend thee from oblivion’s curse.
Thus, the poet would gladly call that tree sacred, the tree that s loved by many, both living and dead. The poet knows that the tree will live longer than her, and hopes it will not be left alone, and will find itself in a forest of similar trees that live long. This tree does not deserve to be forgotten, and should be saved from the curse of oblivion, from the curse of disappearing from the face of the earth and from the minds of men.
The quote “Fear, trembling Hope, and Death, the skeleton, And Time the shadow;” is from “Yew Trees” by Wordsworth.
The poet writes this poem to memorialize the Casuarina tree, and to memorialize her siblings because of the love she has for them and the love she has for the tree. This love must save the tree from being forgotten, and she hopes that the tree is not cursed with oblivion.