Toru Dutt was born in March 1856, in Calcutta as the third daughter of Govin Chunder Dutt. The Dutt family was a family of distinguished intellectuals and poets and Toru had the double advantage of a wealthy parentage and an intellectual and cultural inheritance of a high order. She had also had the advantages of being taught by excellent English tutors at home and later on of long stay in Europe and England where she was fully exposed to the languages and cultures of both the countries.
The Dutts and their children Abju, Aru and Toru were baptised in the Christ Church, Cornwallis Square Calcutta, but Toru’s mother continued to be a pious Hindu under whose influence Toru acquired all her knowledge of Indian legends and puranas and also learnt to respect all that was good and great in the Hindu religion and culture.
In fact, Toru, with all her exposure to and involvement in Western life and culture, loved the land of her birth and remained thoroughly Indian in her consciousness and sensibility.
Toru, like her brother and sister, was destined to die young, for she died in 1876 when she was twenty-one. Like Keats she was a poet of unfulfilled renown and while one keeps wondering what her achievement would have been had she lived longer, one cannot but be struck by the quality of the works she has left behind both in verse and prose.
Besides her well-known collection of poems with the title Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan (1882) she has to her credit a volume of poems in French entitled Sheaf Gleaned in French Fields (1875) a novel in French Le Journal de Mademoiselle d’ Avers (1879) and an unfinished novel in English, Bianca, or The Spanish Maiden which appeared as a serial in the Bengal Magazine between January 1878 and April 1878.
Our Casuarina Tree, the most well-known of Toru’s poems was included in her ‘Miscellaneous Poems’ published at the end of the Ballads. Considered as the most revealing of Toru’s verses with its nostalgia for the past and an ‘inner vision’ of sublime beauty, this poem has been praised by E.G. Thomas as ‘surely the most remarkable poem ever written in English by a foreigner’. The poem comprises five eleven-line stanzas with the rhyme scheme abba, cddc eee and both in the evolution of thought and the organisation of the stanzas and the lines, the poem has several links with Keats’s Ode to a Nightingale echoes of which are heard in many parts of the poem.
The first stanza presents an objective description of the tree which is pictured as a giant wearing the huge scarf of a python-like creeper holding him in his tight but blossomy embrace. The next stanza describes the narrator’s enjoyment of the sight of the tree at different hours of the day while the third stanza recalls many tender memories of her past, especially the childhood days spent with her sister and brother. The fourth stanza which takes the form of an apostrophe to the tree is a kind of lament, a human recordation of pain and regret. The last stanza, like that of Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale” is a tribute to the immortality of the tree.