Palanquin Bearers by Sarojini Naidu Analysis
What is the meaning of Palanquin Bearers?
Palanquin Bearers by Sarojini Naidu is a typically Indian poem, describing an important aspect of Indian social life in the past. In India it was an old custom, prevalent up to the early decades of the twentieth century (and maybe even now in some places) to carry a lady of a noble family, or a newly-wedded bride, in a veiled palki from one place to another. The palki was carried on their shoulders by a few strong and sturdy men, usually two or four in number.
In this particular poem a noble lady, most probably a newly-wedded bride, is being borne to her husband’s house in a veiled palki, being carried on their shoulders by a few men, colorfully and gaily attired, and singing a song in praise of her beauty and youth. The palanquin sways swiftly in accordance with the movement of their footsteps. There is only one emotion in the whole poem-that of joy in the palki-bearers as they perform their duty–and there is nothing to disturb it.
The poetess has admirably succeeded in recapturing the glamour and pageantry of Indian social life in the past. Her mood is balanced and objective rather than introspective. The poem is lyrical in nature and devoid of any suggestion beyond itself. Like Keats’ famous Ode To Autumn it is totally free from the intrusion of any thought element in it. It is a picture and nothing more.
The poem is in the nature of a song sung by the palanquin bearers as they carry a noble lady in a palki from one place to another. The palanquin sways swiftly with the rise and fall of their footsteps. The poetess has deftly caught their swift movement by using a rhythm of comparatively quick movement with stressed and unstressed sounds, so that there is a perfect harmony between the swift movement of the palanquin bearers and the rapid rhythm of the poem.
There are two stanzas in the poem, each of six rhymed verses. The first and the fifth verse in each stanza serve as a refrain (i. e. lines of a song or poem which are repeated for musical effect), begin with a dactyl and softly deviate into anapaests, and the other verses begin with an iamb and glide into anapaests. The poetess succeeds in
catching the emotion of the event, and w completely from it. Her presence is felt nowhere in the poem.
The main charm of the poem is not its thought-content but its rhythmic flow of the verse, and its use of apt and beautiful similes. The images suggested by the words ‘sways’, ‘skims’ ‘floats, hangs,’ ‘springs, and falls are apt kinetic images (.e. images of movement), and impress the idea that the palanquin bearers and the lady inside are moving from one place to another.
In its use of a number of similes this poem resembles Shelley’s To a Skylark. In his famous poem Shelley compares the ‘soaring ever singest’ of the skylark to a number of objects, hidden/In the light of thought,’ ‘a high-born maiden/In a palace tower,’ ‘a glow-warm golden In a dell of dew,’ and ‘a rose embowered/In its own green leaves. In this poem of Sarojini Naidu the lady sitting in the palki and swinging with the movement of the palanquin bearers has been likened to the flower, a bird, ‘a laugh from the lips of a dream,’ ‘a star in the dew of our song,’ ‘a beam on the brow of the tide,’ and ‘a tear from the eyes of a bride.’ The palanquin-bearers carry her ‘like a pearl on a string,’
According to some critics the images contained in the lady’s swaying like a flower in the wind of our song and flouting like a laugh from the lips of a dream’ are rather vague and do not suggest a clear picture. It might be so, but even then they fully succeed in evoking the proper emotion in the heart of the reader. The idea that the lady in the palki is gently and delicately swinging with the rhythmic sound of their song is beautifully and forcefully conveyed.
It is, however, not easy to explain the last image, that of the lady’s falling like a tear from the eyes of the bride. For why, after all, should she fall? It can be explained only in reference to the conventional sadness of a newly-wedded bride at being separated from her parents. It is generally believed, at least in India, that a woman, after her marriage, steps out of her parents’ house, only to enter an unknown future.
Palanquin Bearer Line by Line Summary
Palanquin- commonly called a palki.
- lightly-gently, delicately.
her- the lady of a noble family, here most probably a newly- wedded bride, being borne to her husband’s house in a veiled palki.
- aways– swings, rises and falls, or moves slowly from side.
like a laugh in the wind of our song– The lady inside the palki swings in correspondence with the rhythm of the palanquin bearers song, just as a flower swings with the movement of the air.
- skims– glides lightly over. To ‘skim’ means to ‘move or ‘glide’ lightly over (a surface) not touching it, or only occasionally touching it.
like a bird on the foam of a stream-The bird flies over a stream, sometimes touching the foamy surface of water, and sometimes not. It suggests the very delicate movements of the lady sitting inside the palki.
- floats– moves lightly.
like a laugh from the lips of a dream– like the involuntary gentle smile on the lips of a man while asleep
and enjoying a dream.
- Gaily– joyfully, cheerfully, happily
glide– move along smoothly and continuously,
We glide and we sing– i. e. we sing as we glide or move along
- like a pearl on a string– They carry the lady in a palki on their shoulders. She hangs there and moves gently like a pearl on a string.
- softly- mildly, gently.
- she hangs as a star in the dew of our song– She shines like a bright star in the dew of their song, i.e. she is looking more charming and attractive in the background of their song. The dew enhances the brightness of the star.
- springs– flashes, appears, issues.
beam– ray of light.
brow– the upper part of a slope or a hill.
Tide– current of water.
- She falls like a tear from the eyes of a bride – Why does she fall? The image perhaps refers to the traditional sadness of an Indian bride at being separated from her parents. The lady inside the palki may be sad like an Indian bride.
- lightly, lightly, etc.-The last verse of the two stanzas is a refrain (lines of a song of each verse). It is used for musical effect.
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