Lightly, O lightly we bear her along,
She sways like a flower in the wind of our song;
She skims like a bird on the foam of a stream,
She floats like a laugh from the lips of a dream.
Gaily, O gaily we glide and we sing,
We bear her along like a pearl on a string.
Softly, O softly we bear her along,
She hangs like a star in the dew of our song;
She springs like a beam on the brow of the tide,
She falls like a tear from the eyes of a bride.
Lightly, O lightly we glide and we sing,
We bear her along like a pearl on a string.
Palanquin Bearers Summary
Reference to the Context: These lines have been taken from the poem ‘Palanquin Bearers,’ composed on Aug 7, 1903, by Sarojini Naidu. Palanquin Bearers is the first poem in the first section of The Golden Threshold. Like Tagore, Sarojini Naidu, too, was more than a poet. She was one of the most illustrious Indians who contributed to the cultural, political, and social advancement of the nation in numerous ways. Her poetry is intensely emotional and passionate. Her poetry continues to delight the readers by its sheer simplicity and sweetness.
This characteristically Indian poem takes us back to India at the beginning of the present century when palanquins were a common sight in the Indian streets. The streets of Sarojini’s hometown, Hyderabad, must have been full of them at that time. One might even today go to remote Indian villages, far removed from the modern means of conveyance, and observe the palanquin-bearers carrying in the palki a young lady most probably to her husband’s house. The palanquin bearers usually sing songs in rhythmic harmony with her footsteps.
Sarojini Naidu the poetess says that the palanquin bearers are carrying the palanquin slowly and steadily. They are happy and filled with joy, for they are taking a noble lady, a newly wedded bride, to her husband’s house in a veiled palki. The burden of carrying the palki is not cumbersome to them, and they are carrying it very easily and with no discomfort. They are moving rhythmically through the streets with the palki. The bearers sing gaily of the beauty of the lady. The soft music leaps up in the air as the palanquin bearers bear the beauty inside. As she is carried along, the palki palanquin bearers, sing this song in rhythmic harmony with their footsteps. As they are moving, the lady sways with the movement of the palki like a flower swaying in the gentle breeze. Then the poetess compares her with a bird moving fast just above the surface of the foamy river; and with the laugh that escapes the lips of the dreaming girl. Thus the palanquin bearers admire her for her beauty in their songs. The act of bearing the palanquin is joyful for them, for they are carrying a beautiful lady to her husband’s house. They are advancing joyfully and happily. The lady inside is richly attired, and the palki bearers are gaily dressed and adorned. She is like a pearl hanging on a thread.
Their song compares the lady’s beauty with that of a star shining in the sky on a dewy night. Then the poet compares the radiance of the bride with the rays of light falling on sea waves. Despite her tear-filled eyes, for she is leaving her parent’s house forever, the bride is gorgeous. Thus the palanquin bearers admire her for her beauty. The heavy palanquin is very light for them, for it is an errand of pleasure and joy. The young bride is as beautiful as a beautiful pearl hanging from a string.
Critical Analysis of the Poem
It is the opening poem of ‘The Sceptred Flute, a collection of Sarojini’s poems. The palanquin bearers who sang this song are usually two or four when they carry in the ‘Palki’ a young, noble lady. It was common in the 19th century, or even early 20th century, when cars had not been in everyday use, in almost all the cities of Northern India, particularly Hyderabad, to see noble ladies visiting places and their relative’s homes in veiled palkies.
In this particular case, a noble lady, most probably, (as it has not been mentioned in the poem), a newly wedded bride, is being borne to her husband’s house in a veiled palki. The palki palanquin-bearers sing this song in rhythmic harmony with their footsteps as she is carried along. The scene of the young lady assumed to be beautiful and in her full bloom, the veiled palki; the palki bearers colourfully and gaily attired, and singing a song in adoration of the young beauty they bear along is romantic, breathing an air of the days-gone-by. 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, begin with a dactyl and softly deviate into anapaests, and the other verses begin an iamb and glide into anapaests. The palanquin sways along with swift movement with a rise and fall in the palanquin-bearers footsteps, which the poetess defty catches by using a rhythm of comparatively swift movement with stressed and unstressed sounds so that strict correspondence is maintained between the swift movement of palanquin bearers movement and the rapid rhythm of the poem. The tune and the movement are simultaneously felt. The kinetic image-the image of felt motion, to use a rhetorical phrase, is presented here. the Poet’s craftsmanship is borne out by creating the required rhythm and tune with words picked up and combined with the sureness of the much of an artist. There is full rapport between the tone of the palanquin bearers in “Lightly, O lightly, we bear her along; O Softly, we bear her along,” and the heartbeats of the lady seated inside. The one is destitute of the metaphysical’ irony of the ‘progressive’ dissatisfaction. The sense of mutual belongingness only is felt in the process of the palki, the bearers, the inmate inside, the song and the springly move ment, all synchronising and fusing into one another. The emotion of the event is successfully caught and poetess seems lost in the poem.
There are as many as seven similes-a sumptuous (rich) fare-which are stated as under: The lady sways like a flower hangs, hengs like a star, springs like a beam on the brow of the tide and falls like a tear from the eyes of a bride and the palanquin-bearers bear her along like a pearl on a string.
It may seem to some critics that the images inherent in ‘singing’, ‘skimming’, ‘floating’, ‘hanging’, ‘springing’ and ‘falling’ are apt kinetic images (images of seen motion). Still, there may be others who regard swaying in the wind of our song and floating from the lips of a dream as vague. There may be others who might take them to be examples of highly imaginative perceptions. Notwithstanding, the two images, viz, ‘she falls like a tear from the eye’ of a bride and ‘she springs like a beam on the brow of the tide are remarkable and bespeak of the poet high sense of craftsmanship. Except for the lady falling (for why should she fall ?), the first image bears out the age-old story of an Indian bride’s sadness, whatever be the reason, separated from the parents or the husband or any other thing. It may be nostalgic but approximates closely to the Indian experience. The other image of a beam of light flashing across the ‘brow’ of a tide is apt in so far as it suggests a psychic and spiritual illumination, a ray of hope through despair, a beam of delight through sorrow, a flash of light through the darkness. ‘Brow’ is, indeed, appropriate, for it alone wears one’s wreath or sorrow or sadness.
The remarks of James H. Cousins on the poem are significant: “Palanquin-Bearers…. rests on no more substantial basis then the likening of a lady in a palanquin to a flower, a bird, a star, à beam of light, and a tear : there is not a thought in it: it is without the slightest suspicion of literature, yet its charm is instantaneous and complete.”
“The “Palanquin-Bearers,” says Dr P. E. Dustoor, “is a representative utterance of the poet’s,” as it is the verse-pattern, having a musical quality, the rhythm having the lilt and liquidity of song, that is most characteristic of her and are most readers favourites which this poem contains.