NAME: Nidhi R. Jasani
ROLL NO. : 18
PAPER NO. : 4, Indian English literature
ENROLLMENT NO.: PG14101018
TOPIC: Sarojini Naidu as poet
SUBMITTED TO: M. K. B.U.
Smt. S .B. Gardi Department of English
Sarojini Naidu was born on 13 February 1879 in Hyderabad. Her parents were Dr. Aghorenath Chattopadhyaya and Varada Sundari Devi. She was the eldest of several children of which eight survived. Aghorenath was a remarkable man. A DSC from Edinburgh, he had been excommunicated from his caste for his radical views. His wife, Varada Sundari Devi, had to be schooled in a Brahmo Samaj home for women during his absence.
Sarojini’s poetic career began when she was just eleven. Arthur Symons quotes her in his Introduction to The Golden Threshold:
“One day, when I was eleven, I was sighing over a sum in algebra: it wouldn’t
Come right; but instead a whole poem came to me suddenly. I wrote it down.
From that day my ‘poetic career’ began. At thirteen I wrote a long poem a la
‘Lady of the Lake 1300 lines in six days. At thirteen I wrote a drama of
2000 lines…. I wrote a novel, I wrote fat volumes of journals. I took myself very seriously in those days.”
Of these early works, only the first, the long poem a la “lady of lake “survives today. It was actually published as Mehir Muneer: A Poem in Three Cantos by a Brahmin Girl in 1893, when Sarojini was fourteen. Perhaps, it was the presentation of this book to the Nizam which resulted in her being awarded a scholarship by him for higher studies in England.
Her next collection, Songs by S. Chattopathyaya was printed privately by her father, Aghorenath Chattopadhyaya, in Hyderabad in 1896 and contains poems which she wrote from 1892-1896. The collection was, thus, published when she was in England. Some of these poems found their way into Songs, long with number older pieces. This collection is worth including in my edition of the Selected Poetry and Prose of Sarojini Naidu. The publication of Songs was not supervised by her, though the printed copies of both Mehir Muneer and Songs show correction marks in her handwriting. Perhaps, she intended to republish both later, but then dropped the idea. The poems in these two juvenile are hardly ever discussed by critics.
It was with the Golden Threshold in 1905 that Sarojini’s career as a poet really took off. Arthur Symons was responsible for the publication of this book. The poems in it belong almost wholly to two periods: 1896 and 1904. Sarojini had sent Symons says, “As they seemed to me have an individual beauty of their own, I thought they ought to be published.” (Sarojini’s Naidu: Selected Poetry and Prose 9). Sarojini then wrote to Edmund Gosse asking for his advice and permission in publishing the collection. Sarojini’s dedication of the book to “Edmund Gosse who first showed me the way to the Golden Threshold” shows how deeply she was influenced by him. Ironically, when Gosse had seen many of these very poems in 1896, he had been disappointed as he tells us in his Introduction to The Bird of Time. Now, thanks to Symons they were being published any way. There was, however at another difficult which no biographer or critic to my knowledge has mention. William Heinemann was unwilling to risk his money on the book though it was recommended by Gosse and Symons, and would carry and Introduction by the latter. The poet had to actually pay the publisher a tidy sum in pounds sterling to cover the printing costs. This is revealed in Sarojini’s letter to Gosse at the National Archives. The book, of course, went on to be a huge success; the first edition was sold out by the end of 1905 and a new edition was published and quickly snapped up in 1906.
The Broken Wing, her third collection, was published by Heinemann in 1917. By now, however, the praise had become lukewarm. There was also considerable criticism of her limitation as a poet. In Europe, the first wave of modernism was beginning to gather momentum. There was about to be a cataclysmic change in poetic fashion. Sarojini was swept aside by this tide. She never published another collection in her lifetime. By the time Padmaja published The Feather of the Dawn in 1961, modernism was the ruling mode in Indian poetry. The book was panned by Nissim Ezekiel, among others. Sarojini had been all but consigned to poetic oblivion.
Thus the graph of her career shows that her reputation was at its highest from 1905 to 1917 and then declined afterwards. In India she continued to have a readership and following until her death. But in the 1950’s when modernism became the dominant mode of Indian English poetry. , her reputation as poet sunk to its lowest. This contempt for her poetry persists in an entire generation of poets and critics who are now in their fifties and sixties. Perhaps, the time is now ripe for a reinterpretation, if not revival of her works
As a writer of prose, Sarojini was never well known. Except for a few booklets, she never published a sustained piece of prose in her lifetime. Her collected speeches are uneven in quality and lacking in well-developed or original thinking. In fact, most of the thousands of speeches she delivered were extempore.
In the sections that follow we will look more closely at some of sarojini’s well-known poems
This poem, from sarojini’s first collection, the golden threshold, in perhaps the best example of her aesthetic of excess. Every sense in pushed to a point beyond satiety in this poem through an overabundance of lush and overripe imagery. The overall effect is to create a hazy and entranced mood, as might be induced by a narcotic or opiate. The images suggest a lack of sharpness, clarity, and visibility. Sarojini’s idea of sensuality is hedonistic glut.
I wonder how this poem has been arranged typographically in your textbook. Actually, it should be in three stanzas of four lines each with the rhyme scheme, abab.
Love and Death
This sonnet from The Bird of Time can easily be rated as one of Sarojini’s finest poems, though few critics have considered it so. It’s from Petrarchan, with the rhymes scheme abbaabba. The octave depicts the ideal of love; like Savitri. The sestet reveals the hard and cruel reality which force the poet to accept that her love hasn’t been able to mitigate even one throw of pain, let alone bring the beloved back from death. The poem is modern in spirit in that it refutes the ideal represented by Savitri. You will recall that in the latter story, Savitri manages to win back life for her dead husband Satyavan. Sarojini’s poem makes an interesting comparison with Toru Dutt’s “Sita” and Sri Arobindo’s Savitri.
The Old Woman
Another fine poem, again from The Bird of Time. The old woman evokes karuna or compassion. The refrain, which is the first article of faith for a Muslim, works very effectively, underscoring the woman’s stoicism and fortitude born of her faith. Sarojini gives us a possible history of the old woman, how she once was a wife and mother, but is now reduced to begging in the street. The second stanza is probably one of the most realistic pieces of verse Sarojini ever wrote; these is very little ornamentation or prettification in it. Again, we see her confronting reality with a sober and unblinking gaze.
Like Tagore and Aurobindo, Sarojini Naidu too was more than a poet; she one of Mother India’s most gifted children, readily sharing her burden of pain, fiercely articulating her agonies and hopes, and gallantly striving to redeem the Mother and redeem the time. It was as English poet Sarojini Naidu first caught the attention of the public, but that was only the beginning. In course of time the patriot exceeded the poet, and Sarojini Naidu came to occupy some of the highest unofficial and official positions in the public life of India. Gandhi gives her name “Nightingale of India”. Sarojini Naidu’s poetry is her “inner Life” and this is largely a closed book to us.