Alabaster

I have decided to change things up, this time, and do away with a prologue concerning how difficult it is to bother to write more. Instead, as the Emperor Constantine XI, I shall cast off the purple cloak of Life Stuff and go into the breach.

Sarojini Naidu is a rather interesting poet. She was from a well to-do Indian family, born in Hyderabad towards the end of the 19th century. In order to keep Naidu away from an affair in its roots with a lower-caste doctor, her parents sent her to England, where she took some classes at Cambridge. What is most important, for my purpose, is that there she became friends with some of the Decadent poets, especially Arthur Symons, who published Naidu’s poetry. Naidu eventually returned to India, and became involved in the independence movement, gave speeches about women’s suffrage and education, until she finally became the governor of a province, when India became independent.

sarojini-naidu

Naidu wrote several volumes of poetry, including some translations from Arabic and Persian poets (well, specifically poetesses, but that feels clumsy). Some of Naidu’s poetry are rather interesting, describing India or being immersed in her cultural background; others are just more general, Decadent-esque poetry. I fear my readers may feel I’m tiresome or silly, but I had to choose this short poem, Alabaster, since it is of that short and sweet simplicity that appeals to me; perhaps it is not a poem that sings its author’s own particular background and such, but it is my favourite of the few poems of Naidu that I have read.

It is not the most skilful poem written, but I enjoy the first stanza. A simple quatrain to introduce the poem’s conceit well. The imagery is very pleasant, despite the few lines that adorn it; I enjoy the description of her heart as “Carven with delicate dreams…” It captures the imagination, and makes one truly feel a depth to the picture. I also, on a basic level, simply enjoy the idea of carving a heat with delicate dreams. The second stanza, as one may expect from a two-stanza poem, is where the poem really comes together. If I may copy the brief four lines,

Therein I treasure the spice and scent
Of rich and passionate memories blent
Like odours of cinnamon, sandal and clove,
Of song and sorrow and life and love.

The conceit of heart as alabaster box comes to the fore; the imagery of treasuring the spice and scent of memories is a great one. It comes at one unexpectedly, as it is not a first thought of these memories, “Of song and sorrow and life and love”, to be compared with the smell of cinnamon and such. It is, however, a lovely image; one immediately gets the feeling of opening up the box, and being assailed by such pleasant memories and scents, even memories sorrowful, all coming with a pleasant sense. I feel, in this part, a strong sense of the nostalgia, of the sweet scent even of sad memories rising in this box; but all, like the memories of song and life and love, are to be treasured in the alabaster heart of delicate dreams.

There you have a sample of Naidu, once styled by Symons as the Nightingale of India. This little poem is not her best; I’m unsure to which I would give that honour. Nevertheless, it is a sweet simple poem, and the metaphor, though simple, comes out with a strong image and grand feeling behind, even though it remains between eight brief lines. There is, as there always is for these Decadent and Decadent-esque poems, a bittersweet feel to it; Naidu handles it well, and leaves one feeling satisfied with her few lines, having crafted a lovely image and powerful feeling. I, for one, shall keep this poem within an alabaster box of my own dreams.

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