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Palanquin Bearers -- Sarojini Naidu

(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.
-- Sarojini Naidu
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[1]) 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.

[1] 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

  "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."


Miscellaneous Notes:

The poem has been set to music by one Martin Shaw

Here's a Japanese print of a lady in a palanquin:
[broken link]

Surprisingly I couldn't find any Indian palanquin pictures; if someone has a
link to one do post it or mail it in.

- martin

8 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Sitaram Iyer said...

Thus, Sarojini Naidu wrote...
> 'Palanquin Bearers'


> She floats like a laugh from the lips of a dream.

love line.

singsong? wavy? thought you'd say something about.

Suresh Ramasubramanian said...

On 4 Apr 2000, at 4:11, Martin Julian DeMello wrote:

> [1] This is, at least in India, another of those ubiquitous poems that
> practically everyone studies in school.

Not that I ever liked her poetry too much, I've found it melodic, but
sickly sweet in its sentimentality.

Naidu, (and her even more weepily sentimental contemporary Toru
Dutt) were influenced to a large degree by the florid, excessively
sentimental mid Victorian trend in poetry - fueled (and patronized)
by such eminently forgettable nobodies as Sir Edmund Gosse

> Sarojini Naidu (née Chattopadhyay)
> b. Feb. 13, 1879, Hyderabad, India


Her father, Dr Aghorenath Chattopadhyay, was the first principal of
Nizam's college (one of the oldest in Hyderabad, founded by the
Nizam for educating noble young men in western thought and

The Chattopadhyay family home was a building in the Abids area
(a couple of kilometers from the college) called "The Golden
Threshold". This was because Aghorenath was an amateur
alchemist, always "on the threshold" of producing gold from base
metals, but never quite succeeding :)


Suresh Ramasubramanian + suresh (@) [broken link]
Yesterday it worked
Today it is not working
Windows is like that

Tarannum Asiya said...

The Poem Palenquin Bearers, by Sarojini Naidu, contains 16 (Sixteen lines). Please mention the remaining lines too.

Anonymous said...

Great Poem... the book was 'Gulmohar English Reading' or something like that...the eighth grade version also introduced one to Sherlock Holmes, among others.

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