Elucidate the theme and critical overview of "Our Casuarina Tree."
This poem celebrates a particular tree in India that seems to symbolise not only the speaker's childhood, but also comes to stand for the former friends and family members who have died and passed on. The tree is described as being so immense and powerful that even a thick creeper, which would strangle any other tree, only appears to adorn the tree as though it were a scarf. The importance of this tree however is summed up in the following quotation, where the speaker remembers playing underneath this tree and growing up beneath its protecting branches:
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.
The poem is written in homage to this tree, and of course, the reference to "Our" in the title when referring to the tree signposts that it is much more than simply a poem about the tree itself. The last line of the poem asks "Love" to protect the tree from "Oblivion's curse," and this is something that indicates the tree symbolises the childhood and the memories that the speaker has of her own past and the past that she has shared with those who have gone. Through the act of paying honour to the tree, the speaker's own childhood and her friends attain some level of immortality, protected from being forgotten.
'Our Casuarina Tree' is drawn from Toru Dutt's childhood experience of life in Calcutta. The poem is mainly concerned with the themes of memory, loss and longing, and the recollection is design to evoke sense of trauma that functions as the source of the poem. One of the ways in which the idea of loss and memory are evoked is related to the presentation of the experience of death. The Casuarina Tree operates at both literal and symbolic levels.
It begins with an analogy of the python circling around the trunk- an image that draws attention to the control and grip of the creeper. The trunk, however, is comparedcompared to a giant and the creeper becomes it's scarf. In spite of the fact that the creeper's "embrace" cannot be escaped by any other tree, the casuarina is sturdy enough to effortlessly. The tree is the home of other creepers, flowers, and birds and beast are known to utilize its resources as well. During the day, the tree is peopled with "bird and bee" that not only add colour but also make music, which is indicated by the phrase 'sweet song'. This is a continuous process and it goes on even when people are at rest. The focus here is on the continuity of the song and the fact that it is the casuarina tree which facilitates it. The speaker says that when she opens her window in the morning, it is the tree that she first sees. It is important to note that the speaker emphasizes the significance of the location. The tree becomes the site of various activities during the seasons - in winter a baboon comes and adorns its "crest" and observes the sunrise and its offspring takes advantage of the lower boughs to "leap about and play". The first two stanzas evoke and comment on the role the casuarina tree has played in the lives of the speaker and the people who have lived in its vicinity, and a variety of images are referred to in the course of description. The first two stanzas also highlight the fact that apart from human beings who form a relationship with the tree, other natural as well benefit from it.
It is in the third stanza that adifferent note is introduced; the tree is here visualized as the witness to the passage of time and it serves as the repository of memory as the speaker recollects and revisits the past. The opening lines of the third stanza wonderfully capture the essence of the relationship between the casuarina tree and those that are affected by its presence, which also includes the speaker. The speaker says although " years may roll ", the association with the casuarina cannot be forgotten. The images of the past associated with the tree will always remain fresh and vivid. All the memories that are associated with the tree, however, are not pleasant and the word "dirge" shows that it brings back memories of loss and sufferings as well. The tree reminds the narrator of the memories that are distant and associated with far away places like France and Italy. Even when away from home, the tree is present in her inner vision and it serves as the connecting link. It is a mark of recognition of this relationship that the speaker says she would like to dedicate a song to the tree. The tree was also loved by " those/Who now in blessed sleep for aye repose "- a reference to Toru Dutt's deceased brother and sister. The final lines of the poem are reminiscent of William Wordsworth's 'Yew-trees'and the image of Borrowdale brings in a sense of gloom as the speaker looks back to the years and relations that are now lost.