"Sonnet - The Lotus"

The Lotus[1]
Love came to Flora[2] asking for a flower
     That would of flowers be undisputed queen,
     The lily and the rose[3], long, long had been
Rivals for that high honour. Bards[4] of power
Had sung their claims. “The rose can never tower                                         5
     Like the pale lily with her Juno mien[5]"—
     “But is the lily lovelier?” Thus between
Flower-factions rang the strife in Psyche’s bower[6].


“Give me a flower delicious as the rose
     And stately as the lily in her pride”—                                                      10
 “But of what colour?”[7]—“Rose-red,” Love first chose,
     Then prayed,—“No, lily-white,—or, both provide”;

And Flora gave the lotus, “rose-red” dyed,
And “lily-white,”—the queenliest flower that blows[8].



Notes

[1] “The Lotus” as a Petrarchan sonnet, a form whose structure often informs its content.  Petrarchan sonnets are comprised of 14 lines which are divided into an octave and a sestet. The octave, or the first eight lines, outlines a problem or expresses a desire; the sestet, or the last six lines, comments on the problem or suggests a solution. The Petrarchan sonnet usually meditates on love as its primary theme, particularly unattainable love. 

[2] "Love" is most likely a reference to Cupid, Roman god of love, although one account of creation in mythology involves Love, personified, who produces life and joy. "Flora" is the Roman goddess of flowers and spring.

[3]As Gibson notes, Dutt is entering into a long poetical debate on the superiority of the rose versus the lily, most notably William Cowper’s “The Lily and the Rose” (393). Dutt portrays the rose as romantic and delicious because of its color in contrast to the lily, which is regal and stately in stature. In Cowper’s poem, it is decided that the two flowers must reign equally as queen until there exists a third to surpass them. Dutt employs the powers of the gods and goddesses along with the tradition of the “Bards” in order to position the lotus as the “queenliest” flower.

[4] The title “bard” harkens back to 12th century Britain as the name given to poets. It was still used during Toru’s time as a title of respect to great poets—Shakespeare and Milton were both referred to as “bards.” Here, Dutt calls attention to the “traditional” English poets who neglect to remember there are other “flowers” or “beauties” in the world. In addition, the word “power” adds a sense of the dominant position the English assume in the world over all things—poetry, beauty, people, land. Dutt unsettles and displaces that control.

[5] Juno is considered the queen of Roman mythology. She is usually depicted in a dignified and imperial manner, so Dutt’s reference to her mien (demeanor or bearing) reinforces the stateliness of the lily.

[6] In Roman mythology, Psyche is Cupid’s love interest. In their story, Psyche is at one point brought to a bower (a leafy shelter or recess) covered with plants and flowers.

[7] Dutt’s focus on the “colour” of the flowers calls to mind the “privileged” position Europeans gave to people based on skin color.

[8] In this sense, “blows” means to produce flowers or to be in flower (from the OED).

Last modified: Thursday, 1 February 2018, 12:52 AM