(Poem #390) Palanquin Bearers
Lightly, O lightly we bear her along, She sways like a flower in the wind of our song; She skims like a bird on the foam of a stream, She floats like a laugh from the lips of a dream. Gaily, O gaily we glide and we sing, We bear her along like a pearl on a string. Softly, O softly we bear her along, She hangs like a star in the dew of our song; She springs like a beam on the brow of the tide, She falls like a tear from the eyes of a bride. Lightly, O lightly we glide and we sing, We bear her along like a pearl on a string.
From his introduction to Naidu's "Golden Threshold", Arthur Symons writes "And, in another letter, she writes: "I am not a poet really. I have the vision and the desire, but not the voice. If I could write just one poem full of beauty and the spirit of greatness, I should be exultantly silent for ever; but I sing just as the birds do, and my songs are as ephemeral." It is for this bird-like quality of song, it seems to me, that they are to be valued. They hint, in a sort of delicately evasive way, at a rare temperament, the temperament of a woman of the East, finding expression through a Western language and under partly Western influences. They do not express the whole of that temperament; but they express, I think, its essence; and there is an Eastern magic in them." I couldn't have put it better myself. When I first read Palanquin Bearers (in an eighth grade textbook) I was entranced - I had long appreciated poetry for its beauty, its rhythms and patterns, but this was the first time I had encountered a poem that cried out so strongly to be not so much recited as sung. Combined with this musical quality is a wonderful turn of phrase - Naidu's images are both vivid and delicate, giving the poem a slightly ethereal quality that suits it well.  This is, at least in India, another of those ubiquitous poems that practically everyone studies in school. Biography and Assessment: Sarojini Naidu (née Chattopadhyay) b. Feb. 13, 1879, Hyderabad, India d. March 2, 1949, Lucknow political activist, feminist, poet-writer, and the first Indian woman to be president of the Indian National Congress and to be appointed an Indian state governor. [...] Sarojini Naidu, "the Nightingale of India," also led an active literary life and attracted notable Indian intellectuals to her famous salon in Bombay. Her first volume of poetry, The Golden Threshold (1905), was followed by The Bird of Time (1912), and in 1914 she was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Her collected poems, all of which she wrote in English, have been published under the titles The Sceptred Flute (1928) and The Feather of the Dawn (1961). -- EB The EB concentrates mostly on her political achievements, but does have the note "Carrying on [Toru Dutt's] work was Sarojini Naidu, judged by many the greatest of women poets" The aforementioned introduction to the Golden Threshold has a far more detailed (and fascinating) biography of Naidu as poet, which is far too long to quote here; I'll include an excerpt but I strongly recommend going back and reading the whole thing Sarojini was the eldest of a large family, all of whom were taught English at an early age. "I," she writes, "was stubborn and refused to speak it. So one day when I was nine years old my father punished me--the only time I was ever punished--by shutting me in a room alone for a whole day. I came out of it a full-blown linguist. I have never spoken any other language to him, or to my mother, who always speaks to me in Hindustani. I don't think I had any special hankering to write poetry as a little child, though I was of a very fanciful and dreamy nature. My training under my father's eye was of a sternly scientific character. He was determined that I should be a great mathematician or a scientist, but the poetic instinct, which I inherited from him and also from my mother (who wrote some lovely Bengali lyrics in her youth) proved stronger. 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, a full-fledged passionate thing that I began on the spur of the moment without forethought, just to spite my doctor who said I was very ill and must not touch a book. My health broke down permanently about this time, and my regular studies being stopped I read voraciously. I suppose the greater part of my reading was done between fourteen and sixteen. I wrote a novel, I wrote fat volumes of journals; I took myself very seriously in those days." -- http://www.mirror.ac.uk/sites/metalab.unc.edu/pub/docs/books/gutenberg/etext96/gldth10.txt Miscellaneous Notes: The poem has been set to music by one Martin Shaw (http://www.recmusic.org/lieder/n/naidu/) Here's a Japanese print of a lady in a palanquin: [broken link] http://www.jtnet.ad.jp/WWW/JT/Culture/museum/ukiyoe/jpg/636L.jpg Surprisingly I couldn't find any Indian palanquin pictures; if someone has a link to one do post it or mail it in. - martin