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Friday Poem: Sarojini Naidu


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When studing a module on decadent authors of the 1890s, one might expect to read a lot of poetry by white men who smoked a lot of opium. But the time period actually contains a fair amount of diversity of voice, with female writers and writers of colour contributing to the canon during the 1890s.

Sarojini Naidu is one of those authors: an indian woman who gained fame in the fin de siecle due to her associations with Arthur Symons, the great essayist and theorist. He once (somewhat problematically) said of the poet:

"Her poetry seems to sing itself, as if her swift thoughts and strong emotions sprang into lyrics of themselves... 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... there is an Eastern magic in them."

Known both for her beautiful lyricism and her strong political values, Naidu was a member of the Indian National Congress from 1904, championing Indian independence and calling for political reform. Her legacy lives on through both the changes that would come to her country (with India finally being set free from the British empire in 1947, 2 years before her death), and through her poetry. 

One such poem is titled 'To India', and goes as follows:

O YOUNG through all thy immemorial years! 
Rise, Mother, rise, regenerate from thy gloom, 
And, like a bride high-mated with the spheres, 
Beget new glories from thine ageless womb!

The nations that in fettered darkness weep 
Crave thee to lead them where great mornings break . . . . 
Mother, O Mother, wherefore dost thou sleep? 
Arise and answer for thy children's sake! 

Thy Future calls thee with a manifold sound 
To crescent honours, splendours, victories vast; 
Waken, O slumbering Mother and be crowned, 
Who once wert empress of the sovereign Past.

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