Toru Dutt: Poetry

Writing

Toru Dutt was a natural linguist and in her short life became proficient in Bengali, English, French and, later on, Sanskrit. She left behind an impressive collection of prose and poetry. Her two novels, the unfinished Bianca or The Young Spanish Maiden written in English and Le Journal de Mademoiselle d’Arvers, written in French, were based outside India with non-Indian protagonists. Her poetry comprises A Sheaf Gleaned in French Fields consisting of her translations into English of French poetry, and Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan which compiles her translations and adaptations from Sanskrit literature.

A Sheaf Gleaned in French Fields was published in 1876 without a preface or introduction. It contains 165 poems, mostly translated from French into English by Dutt, except for one poem composed by Dutt, "A Mon Père," and eight poems translated by her sister.[4] At first this collection attracted little attention, though it eventually came to the attention of Edmund Gosse in 1877, who reviewed it quite favorably in the Examiner that year. Sheaf would see a second Indian edition in 1878 and a third edition by Kegan Paul of London in 1880, but Dutt lived to see neither of these triumphs. The second edition added forty-four new poems, a portrait of Toru Dutt and her sister, and a preface by their father.[4]

At the time of her death, she left behind two novels, Le Journal de Mademoiselle d’Arvers, (published posthumously in 1879), the first novel in French by an Indian writer, and Bianca, or the Young Spanish Maiden, (thought to be the first novel in English by an Indian woman writer) in addition to an unfinished volume of original poems in English and Sanskrit translations, Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan. It was after Dutt's death in 1877 that her father discovered the manuscripts of her writings, among which was Ancient Ballads.

When Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan was published posthumously in 1882, Edmund Gosse wrote an introductory memoir for it. In this he wrote of Toru Dutt: "She brought with her from Europe a store of knowledge that would have sufficed to make an English or French girl seem learned, but which in her case was simply miraculous." The ballads are essentially Indian in genre and outlook and are the poetical attempts to reveal her return to her land. In them are enshrined what she had learnt of her country from books and from her people. She did not anglicise her ideas but kept close to the ethical values of the original tales while her understanding of modern life and dedication to craft has helped her to make these ideas of yore relevant to posterity.[11] Some well-remembered poems from this volume include "A Sea of Foliace," "The Lotus," "Sîta," and "Our Casuarina Tree." "Our Casuarina Tree," in particular, is often taught in high schools in India as a part of the English curriculum.

Publications

  • A Sheaf Gleaned in French Fields, Saptahik Sambad Press, Bhowanipore, 1876.
  • Bianca, or the Spanish Maiden, serialized in Bengal Magazine from January to April 1878 (posthumous).
  • Le Journal de Mademoiselle d’Arvers, Didier, Paris, 1879 (posthumous).
  • Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan, 1882 (posthumous).

Dutt also published translations of French poetry, and literary articles, in Bengal Magazine from March 1874 to March 1877.[4] Notable magazine publications from this time include essays on Leconte de Lisle and Henry Louis Vivian Derozio in December 1874.[4] She also published some translations from Sanskrit in Bengal Magazine (October 1876) and Calcutta Review (January 1877).[4]

In addition, Dutt wrote a great many letters, which were published in 1921 as the Life and Letters of Toru Dutt by Oxford University Press, edited by Harihar Das.


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