Classics  
Indian    1856 - 1877   
Toru Dutt was an Indian poet who wrote in English and French, and made a mark in literature in spite of her premature death. After publication of several translations and literary discussions, she published A Sheaf Gleaned in French Fields, a volume of French poems she had translated into English, ... Read more
Toru Dutt was an Indian poet who wrote in English and French, and made a mark in literature in spite of her premature death. After publication of several translations and literary discussions, she published A Sheaf Gleaned in French Fields, a volume of French poems she had translated into English, ... Read more

A waif on this earth,
Sick, ugly and small,
Contemned from my birth
And rejected by all,
From my lips broke a cry,
Such as anguish may wring,
Sing, — said God in reply,
Chant poor little thing.


By Wealth's coach besmeared
With dirt in a shower,
Insulted and jeered
By the minions of power,
Where — oh where shall I fly?
Who comfort will bring?
Sing, — said God in reply,
Chant poor little thing.


Life struck me with fright —
Full of chances and pain,
So I hugged with delight
The drudge's hard chain;
One must eat, — yet I die,
Like a bird with clipped wing,
Sing — said God in reply,
Chant poor little thing.


Love cheered for a while
My morn with his ray,
But like a ripple or smile
My youth passed away.
Now near Beauty I sigh,
But fled is the spring!
Sing — said God in reply,
Chant poor little thing.


All men have a task,
And to sing is my lot —
No meed from men I ask
But one kindly thought.
My vocation is high —
'Mid the glasses that ring,
Still — still comes that reply,
Chant poor little thing.

A sea of foliage girds our garden round,
But not a sea of dull unvaried green,
Sharp contrasts of all colors here are seen;
The light-green graceful tamarinds abound
Amid the mango clumps of green profound,
And palms arise, like pillars gray, between;
And o'er the quiet pools the seemuls lean,
Red—red, and startling like a trumpet's sound.
But nothing can be lovelier than the ranges
Of bamboos to the eastward, when the moon
Looks through their gaps, and the white lotus changes
Into a cup of silver. One might swoon
Drunken with beauty then, or gaze and gaze
On a primeval Eden, in amaze.

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.  

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.  

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.  

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.  

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.

"Hark! Lakshman! Hark, again that cry!
                 It is, — it is my husband's voice!
             Oh hasten, to his succour fly,
                 No more hast thou, dear friend, a choice.
             He calls on thee, perhaps his foes
                 Environ him on all sides round,
            That wail, — it means death's final throes!
                 Why standest thou, as magic-bound?


             "Is this a time for thought, — oh gird
               Thy bright sword on, and take thy bow!
           He heeds not, hears not any word,
               Evil hangs over us, I know!
           Swift in decision, prompt in deed,
               Brave unto rashness, can this be,
           The man to whom all looked at need?
               Is it my brother that I see!


           "Oh no, and I must run alone,
               For further here I cannot stay;
           Art thou transformed to blind dumb stone!
               Wherefore this impious, strange delay!
           That cry, — that cry, — it seems to ring
               Still in my ears, — I cannot bear
           Suspense; if help we fail to bring
               His death at least we both can share"


          "Oh calm thyself, Videhan Queen,
               No cause is there for any fear,
           Hast thou his prowess never seen?
               Wipe off for shame that dastard tear!
           What being of demonian birth
               Could ever brave his mighty arm?
           Is there a creature on earth
               That dares to work our hero harm?


           "The lion and the grisly bear
               Cower when they see his royal look,
           Sun-staring eagles of the air
               His glance of anger cannot brook,
           Pythons and cobras at his tread
               To their most secret coverts glide,
           Bowed to the dust each serpent head
               Erect before in hooded pride.


           "Rakshasas, Danavs, demons, ghosts,
               Acknowledge in their hearts his might,
           And slink to their remotest coasts,
               In terror at his very sight.
           Evil to him! Oh fear it not,
               Whatever foes against him rise!
           Banish for aye the foolish thought,
               And be thyself, — bold, great, and wise.


           "He call for help! Canst thou believe
               He like a child would shriek for aid
           Or pray for respite or reprieve —
               Not of such metal is he made!
           Delusive was that piercing cry, —
               Some trick of magic by the foe;
           He has a work, — he cannot die,
               Beseech me not from hence to go.


           For here beside thee, as a guard
               'Twas he commanded me to stay,
           And dangers with my life to ward
               If they should come across thy way.
           Send me not hence, for in this wood
               Bands scattered of the giants lurk,
           Who on their wrongs and vengeance brood,
               And wait the hour their will to work."


           "Oh shame! and canst thou make my weal
               A plea for lingering! Now I know
           What thou art, Lakshman! And I feel
               Far better were an open foe.
           Art thou a coward? I have seen
               Thy bearing in the battle-fray
           Where flew the death-fraught arrows keen,
               Else had I judged thee so today.


           "But then thy leader stood beside!
               Dazzles the cloud when shines the sun,
           Reft of his radiance, see it glide
               A shapeless mass of vapours dun;
           So of thy courage, — or if not,
               The matter is far darker dyed,
           What makes thee loth to leave this spot?
               Is there a motive thou wouldst hide?


           "He perishes — well, let him die!
               His wife henceforth shall be mine own!
           Can that thought deep imbedded lie
               Within thy heart's most secret zone!
           Search well and see! one brother takes
               His kingdom, — one would take his wife!
           A fair partition! — But it makes
               Me shudder, and abhor my life.


           "Art thou in secret league with those
               Who from his hope the kingdom rent?
           A spy from his ignoble foes
               To track him in his banishment?
           And wouldst thou at his death rejoice?
               I know thou wouldst, or sure ere now
           When first thou heardst that well known voice
               Thou shouldst have run to aid, I trow.


           "Learn this, — whatever comes may come,
               But I shall not survive my Love,
           Of all my thoughts here is the sum!
            Witness it gods in heaven above.
         If fire can burn, or water drown,
             I follow him: — choose what thou wilt
         Truth with its everlasting crown,
             Or falsehood, treachery, and guilt.


         "Remain here with a vain pretence
             Of shielding me from wrong and shame,
         Or go and die in his defence
             And leave behind a noble name.
         Choose what thou wilt, — I urge no more,
             My pathway lies before me clear,
         I did not know thy mind before,
             I know thee now, — and have no fear."


         She said and proudly from him turned, —
             Was this the gentle Sita? No.
         Flames from her eyes shot forth and burned,
             The tears therein had ceased to flow.
         "Hear me, O Queen, ere I depart,
             No longer can I bear thy words,
         They lacerate my inmost heart
             And torture me, like poisoned swords.


         "Have I deserved this at thine hand?
             Of lifelong loyalty and truth
         Is this the meed? I understand
             Thy feelings, Sita, and in sooth
         I blame thee not, — but thou mightst be
             Less rash in judgement, Look! I go,
         Little I care what comes to me
             Wert thou but safe, — God keep thee so!


         "In going hence I disregard
             The plainest orders of my chief,
         A deed for me, — a soldier, — hard
             And deeply painful, but thy grief
         And language, wild and wrong, allow
             No other course. Mine be the crime,
         And mine alone. — but oh, do thou
             Think better of me from this time.


         "Here with an arrow, lo, I trace
             A magic circle ere I leave,
         No evil thing within this space
             May come to harm thee or to grieve.
         Step not, for aught, across the line,
             Whatever thou mayst see or hear,
         So shalt thou balk the bad design
             Of every enemy I fear.


         "And now farewell! What thou hast said,
             Though it has broken quite my heart,
         So that I wish I were dead —
             I would before, O Queen, we part,
         Freely forgive, for well I know
             That grief and fear have made thee wild,
         We part as friends, — is it not so?"
             And speaking thus he sadly smiled.


         "And oh ye sylvan gods that dwell
             Among these dim and sombre shades,
         Whose voices in the breezes swell
             And blend with noises of cascades,
         Watch over Sita, whom alone
             I leave, and keep her safe from harm,
         Till we return unto our own,
             I and my brother, arm in arm.


         "For though ill omens round us rise
             And frighten her dear heart, I feel
         That he is safe. Beneath the skies
             His equal is not, — and his heel
         Shall tread all adversaries down,
             Whoeve'r they may chance to be.
         Farewell, O Sita! Blessings crown
             And peace for ever rest with thee!"


         He said, and straight his weapons took
             His bow and arrows pointed keen,
         Kind, — nay, indulgent, — was his look,
             No trace of anger, there was seen,
         Only a sorrow dark, that seemed
             To deepen his resolve to dare
         All dangers. Hoarse the vulture screamed,
             As out he strode with dauntless air.

Love came to Flora asking for a flower
                 That would of flowers be undisputed queen,
                 The lily and the rose, long, long had been
             Rivals for that high honor. Bards of power
             Had sung their claims. "The rose can never tower
                 Like the pale lily with her Juno mien" —
                 "But is the lily lovelier?" Thus between
             Flower-factions rang the strife in Psyche's bower.
             "Give me a flower delicious as the rose
               And stately as the lily in her pride" —
           But of what color?" — "Rose-red," Love first chose,
               Then prayed — "No, lily-white — or, both provide;"
               And Flora gave the lotus, "rose-red" dyed,
           And "lily-white" — the queenliest flower that blows.

 
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