134. The Bird of Time, #24: Sarojini Naidu

“When there is oppression, the only self-respecting thing is to rise and say this shall cease today, because my right is justice.”

Once again we are doing India. If you want to know how long I’ve been plugging at this blog, note my last “visit” to India (curriculum speaking) was two years ago, when I choose a piece from the 1913 Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore. It’s been a long two years. In revisiting India, I was taken that Naidu was described as an “Indian woman poet and freedom fighter writing in English.” So, being a freedom fighter got her the nod.

These ideas have been visited before in poetry, but I am always interested in those specific details that brought the narrator back from the brink of despair. First, ask your students how Naidu captures despair. Does it ring true? If not, is it because a) she’s a bad poet, b) the difference in culture does not translate, or c) they’ve never known despair of this magnitude? That last bit is a good writing prompt/discussion piece worth exploring. Second, ask them what specific things brought her back from despair?

The cultural question is also worth asking about. Do words cross languages? Cultures? Is it the language, or the experiences? Does that mean there are limits to their own words? How about across age differences and cultures? How, then, might they reach out in their own language? If you are game, have them bring in “their” music and have them “make” you appreciate it and “get” it; they will work hard at it.

Let me say that I have no idea how these lines are meant to be broken up. The Wikipedia entry has a few lines done one way, while the full text of “The Bird of Time” from Internet Archive is oddly formatted. I cut out some odd spacing, which might be wrong (let me know!). I’m not even sure of the spelling–some of it seems like typos, but my students get the gist.

Naidu once said, “If you are stronger, you have to help the weaker boy or girl both in play and in the work.”

The Bird of Time
Sarojini Naidu

At Twilight
On the way to Gohonda
WEARY, I sought kind Death among the rills
That drink of purple twilight where the plain
Broods in the shadow of untroubled hills :
I cried, “High dreams and hope and love are vain,
Absolve my spirit of its poignant ills,
And cleanse me from the bondage of my pain!

“Shall hope prevail where clamorous hate is rife,
Shall sweet love prosper or high dreams find place
Amid the tumult of reverberant strife
‘Twixt ancient creeds, ‘twixt race and ancient race,
That mars the grave, glad purposes of life,
Leaving no refuge save thy succouring face ?”

Sen as I spake, a mournful wind drew near,
eavy with scent of drooping roses shed,
And incense scattered from the passing bier
Of some loved woman canopied in red,
Borne with slow chant and swift-remembering tear,
To the blind, ultimate silence of the dead. . . .

lost, quenched in unawakening sleep
The glory of her dear, reluctant eyes !
hushed the eager feet that knew the steep
And intricate ways of ecstasy and sighs !
And dumb with alien slumber, dim and deep,
The living heart that was love’s paradise !

Quick with the sense of joys she hath foregone,
Returned my soul to beckoning joys that wait,
Laughter of children and the lyric dawn,
And love’s delight, profound and passionate,
Winged dreams that blow their golden clarion,
And hope that conquers immemorial hate.

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