Summary and Analysis

“Our Casuarina Tree,” a poem written in English by the Indian writer Toru Dutt, celebrates a huge tree that the speaker (resembling Dutt herself) associates with the happiness of her childhood in India. Yet the speaker also associates the tree with the memory of lost loved ones—people from her youth (probably based on Dutt’s dead siblings) with whom she, when a girl, played beneath the tree.

The fact that the tree is associated, in the speaker’s mind, with other persons is already foreshadowed in the poem’s title through the use of the word Our. The speaker’s perspective is immediately more than merely her own: the title already implies that she thinks of the tree as not simply hers but as belonging to others, too.

The opening image, which compares a large vine crawling around the tree to a “huge Python” (1), might at first seem dark and foreboding, but the image ultimately emphasizes the great strength of the tree itself. For some readers, the tree symbolizes the ancient and venerable culture of India, while the huge encircling vine symbolizes the potentially deadly influence of colonialism. Most immediately, though, the vine itself seems to add a kind of beauty to the tree; the vine, after all, is called a “scarf” (6), a word with fairly positive connotations.

The “crimson” flowers that cluster on the boughs of the tree (7) are the red flowers, resembling a kind of mistletoe, produced by casuarina trees themselves. The flowers are not, in other words, products of the encircling vine. The tree has its own beauty, and the beauty and nourishment provided by the flowers apparently attract birds and bees, so that the tree, though ancient, seems full of life and full of lovely sounds. Even as the sky grows dark, the tree seems brimming with the sounds of the birds and insects (11). Rather than being simply an inert object, and rather than appealing simply to human eyes, the tree seems teeming with vitality and energy. The tree is situated in the midst of a “garden” (9), and indeed, the surroundings are described in terms that sound almost Edenic.

In the second stanza, the tree is associated with even more kinds of life, including baboons (adult and young) that sit or leap or play in its branches, kokila birds that sing in or near it, “sleepy cows” (19) that walk beneath it, and “water-lilies” that flourish in the “broad tank” (meaning a pool, pond, or lake) on which the tree casts its shadows. The tree, in other words, is at the center of a complex, harmonious ecosystem—a natural environment in which...

(The entire section is 1053 words.)