Our Casuarina Tree

Casuarina, Tree
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A tree that watched over your home; saw siblings grow from children to adults; perhaps that held the tragedy of outliving all else.

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 tranced 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!
May’st 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.

After losing both her brother and her sister, Toru Dutt (1856-1877) found only one constant to link the two – the Casuarina tree that had long graced the backyard of their family home. When she knew that her own death was looming, she found only one way to connect her memories, siblings and herself in a place where the three would never be separated – through the poem, “Our Casuarina Tree”.

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Madras Courier originally ran as a broadsheet with a poetry section. It was a time when readers felt comfortable sharing glimpses of their lives through verse. If you too have a poem you’d like to submit, do mail us at editor@madrascourier.com.

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