“Small–scale Reflections on a Great House”
The poem was first published in the collection The Relations. It is a long poem with a consistent structure. The poem is divided into seven parts. Each part consists of 13 lines which are divided into three lines in each stanza followed by a single line. It brings forth a picture of an old Hindu house that is occupied by several generations. Stanza after stanza the poet presents the vivid picture of its household, the family members, their lifestyle and numerous events that take place in that ‘great house’. He says,
Sometimes I think that nothing
that ever comes into this house
goes out. Things that come in everyday
to lose themselves among other things
lost long ago among
other things lost long ago;
The lines reveal the recapturing of the past time into memory. The house has been accommodating for years and ages the numerous things like unread library books, neighbours’ dishes, servants, phonographs etc. Like these non–living things the house also gives shelter to servants, cows, sons-in-law, and daughters-in-law. The poet ironically comments on the fact that if sometimes things go out, they come back to the house once again. The letters return to the house, which are redirected for many times to wrong addresses; cotton bales return processed and often with ‘long bills attached’. Even the ideas like rumours come back and stay in the house like prodigies. Daughters who are married to short-lived idiots return, and sons, who had run away, also come back. In this way, nothing that goes out of this great house stays out. The image that the house is sustaining and preserving all things forever becomes darker at the end where the poet mentions:
And though many times from everywhere,
recently only twice:
once in nineteen-forty-three
from as far as the Sahara,
half -gnawed by desert foxes,
and lately from somewhere
in the north, a nephew with stripes
on his shoulder was called
an incident on the border
and was brought back in plane
and train and military truck
even before the telegrams reached,
on a perfectly good
It refers to the death of a person who had gone at war frontier. The household witness the moments of happiness and sorrow and keep preserving its traditional and age-long identity of a great ancient house. After reading the poem along with its subtle irony and witty expressions, we realize that the poem is not simply a recollection of a house with its age-long tradition. Metaphorically, it refers to ‘India’ and its great but degrading tradition. At one level, it presents an ironic picture of a large Hindu family of several generations. It portrays the myths, customs, rituals or superstitions. It highlights the fate of its family members; especially of those who can’t find their own identity and existence, and are assimilated without complaint in this large household. Their children then serve the elders. By providing a large number of concrete details the poem does not simply resent any individual family saga but manifest the socio – economical transition of India and its impact on the Indian people.
Questions and Answers
Q. Discuss the structure of the poem “Small-scale Reflections on Great House”.
Answer: The poem is divided into seven parts. Each art consists of 13 lines which are divided into three lines in each stanza followed by a single line.
Q. Which things live in the great house forever?
Answer: Servants, cows, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law, unread library books, neighbours’ dishes, servants, phonographs, etc.
Q. How do the letters and cotton bales return to the house?
Answer: The letters return the house, which are redirected for many times to wrong addresses, and cotton bales return processed and often with ‘long bills attached’.
Q. How does a nephew return home?
Answer: Half–gnawed by desert foxes with stripes on his shoulder.
Q. What are the metaphorical implications of the ‘great house’?
Answer: In a wider context, the ‘great house’ becomes a metaphor of India as a nation where nothing goes out, once it enters the ‘house’.