Sita By Toru Dutt

Introduction: The poem “Sita” has been written by Toru Dutt. She is one of the famous Indo-Anglian poets of the 19th century. She was influenced by the British Romantics. She wrote her poetry, Novels, and stories both in French and English. Her life was a mix of joy and agony. Her best original work is “Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan” from which the poem ‘Sita’ has been extracted. She too died at the age of 22.

Summary of the poem “Sita”

The poem “Sita” reveals Toru Dutt’s love for Indian myths and her sensitivity to women’s sufferings and victimization even in the ancient times.The poem forms a part of the collection of poems Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan which was published posthumously in 1882 with a foreword by Edmund Gosse who wrote, “We believe that the original English poems which we present to the public for the first time today will be ultimately found to continue Toru’s chief legacy to posterity.” This is considered to be her most mature contribution which shows how much rooted she was into the soil of Hindu thought and tradition. There are nine ballads in this collection based on Indian myths and legends: “Savitri”, “Lakshman”, “Jogadhya Uma”, “The Royal Ascetic and the Hind”, “Dhruva”, “Butto”, “Sindhu”, “Prahlad” and “Sita” and miscellaneous poems. With these poems, a new phase started in the development of Toru Dutt’s poetic genius as she desired to give poetic expression to her intense love for her homeland and its traditions from which she had been alienated for a long period by French and English literatures. Her one year’s study of Sanskrit and the inspiration she got from her recollection of the religious stories told by her mother bring her back to the very heart of India. Haydn Moore Williams remarks about these poems, “Apart from her mastery of English verse forms, the poems show the emergence of an independent poetic individuality. The themes of these ballads are sublime.” Hari Mohan Prasad and Chakradhar Prasad Singh call this collection “a cultural and philosophical anthropology and a religious and moral instrument”. The ballads are not only rich in philosophical thought and moral vision but also reveal the poet’s stylistic maturity, felicity of expression, descriptive splendour, narrative vigour, lyrical simplicity and romantic remoteness. C. N. Srinath pays a tribute to Toru’s contribution to Indian poetry in English with reference to these ballads:

“The achievement is admirable when we think of Toru’s literary context more than a hundred years ago when she had no local models in poetry to look up to but had all the disadvantages of being a young poet amid elder poets in the family who imitated the familiar modes and styles of English poetry. She can also be called a pioneer in children’s poetry as the first poet to tell the Indian tales in English. The tone of the tale and the conscious simplicity of narrative suggest the audience for whom it was probably meant but the power and conceptual wisdom of the tale and the values that emerge out of the various struggles and tensions and the nobility of characters have a great spell on the adult imagination as well.”

The Text of the poem “Sita”


Three happy children in a darkened room!

What do they gaze on with wide-open eyes?

A dense, dense forest, where no sunbeam pries,

And in its centre a cleared spot. – There bloom

Gigantic flowers on creepers that embrace

Tall trees; there, in a quiet lucid lake

The white swans glide; there, “whirring from the brake,”

The peacock springs; there herds of wild deer race;

There, patches gleam with yellow waving grain;

There, dwells in peace, the poet-anchorite.

But who is this fair lady? Not in vain

She weeps – for lo ! at every tear she shes

Tears from three pairs of young eyes fall amain,

And bowed in sorrow are the three young heads.

It is an old, old story, and the lay

Which has evoked sad Sita from the past

Is by a mother sung… ‘Tis hushed at last

And melts the picture from their sight away,

Yet shall they dream of it until the day!

When shall those children by their mother’s side

Gather, ah me! As erst at eventide?


Analysis of the Poem

This is the last ballad in the collection Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan recounting the pathetic tale of Sita from The Ramayana narrated by her mother to Toru and her sister and brother which they used to listen with “wide-open eyes.” Toru had once written to her French friend Clarisse Bader, “Can there be a more touching and lovable heroine than Sita? I do not think so when I hear my mother chant in the evening, the old lays of our country. I almost always weep. The plight of Sita, when banished for the second time she wanders alone in the vast forest despair and horror filling her soul is so pathetic that I believe there is no one who could hear it without shedding tears.”

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The poem is not a ballad in the strict sense of the term because it does not have a narrative framework and there is more of suggestion and evocation than narration. The poem begins with the poetess recalling the scene when her mother told her three children the sufferings of Sita (at the hands of her husband Rama) who was exiled into the forest (on the loud talk of a washman against her character) and there she started living in the hermitage of the poet – anchorite, Valmiki.

There is a dramatic beginning of the poem showing “three happy children in a darkened room!” The way the mother builds before them the image of the surroundings in the forest near the ashram of the sage Valmiki has been projected in the poem in such a vivid nature – a description that we can visualise clearly the picture of the hermitage in the lines:

A dense, dense forest, where no sunbeam pries,

And in its centre a cleared spot. – There bloom

Gigantic flowers on creepers that embrace

Tall trees; there, in a quiet lucid lake

The white swans glide; there, “whirring from the brake,”

The peacock springs; their herds of wild deer race;

There, patches gleam with yellow waving grain;

There, dwells in peace, the poet-anchorite.
The dramatic setting of the poem is evoked further and the curiosity of the reader is aroused through this question “But who is this fair lady ?” who is told to be “weeping” but “not in vain”. The reasons for her weeping have not been stated but left for the reader to recall from the scriptural context. The impact of the tale of “weeping” Sita as narrated by Toru’s mother (who also might be shedding tears while telling this “lay” as the line “at every tear she sheds” suggests) is so intense and powerful on the three children that

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Tears from three pairs of young eyes fall amain,

And bowed in sorrow are the three young heads,

Though Toru’s mother had been telling them other stories also from Hindu scriptures but while narrating this tale, she being a woman and a mother always seemed to have empathized with the plight of Sita, who was then expecting and was like all women victimized in a patriarchal system. The next three lines convey that though the mother seeing her children weeping stopped the tale there and then to melt “the picture” of the sad Sita “from their sight away” but Toru knew that it had such an everlasting impact on the psyche of the children that they would

dream of it until the day.”

In the last two lines of the poem, the poet in a nostalgic mood recalls her lost sister and brother who she knows will never gather together by their mother’s side to listen to this tale.

Critical Comments

K. R. Srinivas Iyengar hails this poem as “almost perfect” and considers it “a tribute to Toru’s mother’s genius for storytelling. The last two lines are called by him “a poignant elegy on the early death of Abju and Aru”. Iyengar further says “Never had Toru written more feelingly or evoked a scene or an emotion as unforgettably.” He also calls Toru’s this little poem an unflickering lamp which throws light on the quality of her heart. The poem is undoubtedly rich in its pictorial imagery, evincing Toru’s love for nature and ability to say

“What oft was thought and felt” about women’s plight “but never so well expressed.”

Questions and Answers

1. Who is the poem about?
Ans: The poem ‘Sita’ is about the mythological character Sita the wife of Lord Ram.
2. How many children listen to the story?
Ans: The children who are listening to the story are – the poet, her brother, and sister.
3. Who dwells in peace in the forest?
Ans: Valmiki, the poet anchorite dwells in peace in the forest.
4. What is the colour of the swans which are seen gliding in the lake?
Ans: The colour of the swans which are seen gliding in the lake is white.
5. Who is the narrator of the story?
Ans: The poet’s mother is the narrator of the story.

B. Answer the following questions in a few words.

1. What prevents the sunlight from entering the place?
Ans: The dense forest prevents sunlight from entering the place.

2. Name the birds and animals mentioned in the poem.
Ans: The birds and animals mentioned in the poem are white swans, peacock, and deer.

3. Where are the children sitting?
Ans: The children are sitting in a darkened room.

4. Whose heads are bowed in sorrow?
Ans: On listening to the sad story of Sita the heads of the poet her brother and sister are bowed in sorrow.

5. What does the poet remember when she listens to the story?
Ans: When the poet listens to the story of Sita, she remembers the happy days of the past of her children when she along with her brother and sister would listen to the story from her mother.

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C. Answer the following question briefly in your own words.
1. Why are the children weeping?
Ans: The children are weeping for they are moved on hear the sad story of Sita in exile in the hermitage of Valmiki.

2. Describe the hermitage where Sita is living.
Ans: The hermitage where Sita lives is a beautiful one, in the lap of nature. There are blooming flowers and tall trees. There is a lake with clear waters. The place is filled with birds and animals which include gliding swans, springing peacocks and racing deer. Sita is living in the hermitage of Valmiki when the mother narrates the story of Sita the three children can see the hermitage through the eyes of their mind. The hermitage in a dense forest where sunbeam cannot enter.

3 What does the poet long for?
Ans: The poet longs tor those past happy days of her childhood when she along with her brother and sister would listen to her mother telling them the story to Sita.

D. Give suitable answers to the following.

1. How does the poem reflect the poet’s deep love for nature?
Ans: The poem reflects the poet’s deep love for nature when she presents a pen-picture of Valmiki’s hermitage, where Sita is living in exile. The place is densely covered with creepers, flowers, and trees. It is so dense that sunlight cannot pass through it. There are white swans gliding on a placid lake rotating their wings. The peacocks are seen dancing and the wild deer running amidst yellow grain. Blue smoke rivals from the sacred alter. This pictorial presentation of the nature world stresses the poet’s deep love for nature.

2. Write a critical summary of the poem ‘Sita’.
Ans: See the summary of the poem at the top.

Extra Questions Answers

1. Who is the fair lady? How does her situation affect the children?
Ans: The fair lady is Sita who has been put in exile in the Valmiki Ashram.
Her tears and sorrow in life in exile have deeply moved the children and they also start weeping.

2. What song does the mother sing? Describe its effect on the children.
Ans: The mother sings the song describing Sita’s life of pain and sorrow during the period of her exile in a dense forest.
The sorrow of Sita’s life has deeply touched the children. They can see the Valmiki Ashram where Sita was in exile through the eyes of their mind. They feel sorry for Sita, and tears roll down their eyes. The children are so affected by the story of Sita that they dreamt of it the whole night after the mother has finished telling the story.

3. Who is the ‘poet anchorite’ referred to in the poem ‘Sita’?
Ans: “Poet anchorite” refers to Valmiki.

4. Do you think the children will ever gather by their mother’s side again?
Ans: No, the children can never gather by their mother’s side again. The mother as well as the two siblings of the poet is no more.

5. What ‘mythic past’ does Dutt try to bring out in her poem?
Ans: The ‘mythic past’ that Toru Dutt tries to bring out in the poem is the story of Sita’s life of grief and sorrow during her exile in Valmiki’s ashram. Sita suffers a lot in exile to bring spurned by her husband Lord Rama.

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