Book Reviews

Sarojini Naidu’s The Soul’s Prayer

This article is written jointly with Dr. Archana, Associate Professor, BBDGEI, Lucknow, U.P.

Sarojini Naidu was one of the most gifted immortal artists whose writings catch the attention of the people not only in India but also in abroad. There are greater poets than Sarojini Naidu but her name is at the top due to her original approach as she sees things with a fresh approach and her enchanting poetry that has thrilled several generations. Her poetry is appreciated, for its bird like quality. In this reference in the introduction of her collected poems published many years later under the title The Sceptred Flute, Joseph Auslander wrote, “If she sings as the birds do, she sings out of a darker passion. Her song is not ephemeral. For that matter neither is the bird’s song. It is no more transitory than truth and her bird music was always true. She never writes for the mere sake of writing. There is no artifice in her poetry. She sings from the heart.”[1] In a letter to Arthur Symons, Sarojini Naidu also wrote, “I am not a poet really. I have the vision and the desire, but not the voice. If I could write just one poem full of beauty and the spirit of greatness, I should be exultantly silent for ever; but I sing just as the birds do, and my songs are as ephemeral”. [2]

Broadly speaking, major themes of Sarojini Naidu’s poems are love, nature, folk talk, life and death and finally patriotism. Her poetry reflects her love for her nation and also sings the joys and sorrows of her people. She emphasizes more on joys and sorrows rather than other themes because she considers that joys and sorrows are interrelated to each other and both aspects of a coin. Both are necessary for the completion of life. Life is surrounded by joys and sorrows. Sarojini Naidu has sharp sensibility and deep insight dealing with these aspects of life. In this matter A. N. Dwivedi points out, “A poet is a person of sharp sensibility and deep insight and is primarily guided and controlled by his inner urges. But he is also a social being, even if for a moment or two. As a social being, he comes into contact with other persons, places and things and thus gains in experience. These other experiences supply food to his inner experiences.” [3]

The present paper focuses on Sarojini Naidu’s sharp sensibility regarding to life and death especially with the reference to the poem The Soul’s Prayer. It is observed that the steady growth of her poetic sensibility and imagination which at first found delight in observing a ‘magical wood’ or a ‘wandering firefly’ towards a serene but delightful mood of mysticism can also be seen in The Soul’s Prayer. The poem reveals the poetess’s mystic vision dealing with problems of life and death. The poem is an imaginary conversation between the conscience and the God. The conscience pleads God to reveal the meaning of life and death.

Saojini Naidu’s poetry deals with the problems of life and death as the life is full of pains, sorrows, confusions and problems. With the problems of life and death Naidu prefers to address God who is the maker of this world and creator of life and death. She writes this poem with the voice of a child who is a girl of 13 years old. Child is none but the poetess herself. The poem The Soul’s Prayerpresents her faith in God and feels pride to be His innocent child. The child makes a blind prayer to God and pleads with Him to reveal the various metaphysical aspect of life and the nature of existence or the law of life and death. Here the speaker is searching for "the inmost laws of life and death," seeking answers to questions that strike at the heart of living and consciousness.

In childhood’s pride I said to Thee:
‘O Thou, who mad’st me of Thy breath,
Speak, Master, and reveal to me
Thine inmost laws of life and death.

In the above satanza Sarojini Naidu calls herself the innocent child of God and feels pride to take birth from His breath but suddenly prays to be blessed with the power of tolerate like her master and has keen desire to taste the both aspects .

In this way she thinks that if God tells her the laws and mystery of life and death, she may get ready to bear the bitter experiences of life as joys and sorrows of human life with the greatness of God as she appears saying to, “Give me to drink each joy and pain:” The poetess prays to God to feel everything in the whole world, all life's joys and pain at the most intense levels. Not only she craves for bliss in life, but she is ready to keep abreast of every pang of strife and struggle. The poem has also an autobiographical tone when she desires to experience every types of situation in life as she is ever ready to face dangers, and though her own life is one long struggle with ill-health and chronic heart-weakness, she plunges headlong into the battle of life as also into the battle for India’s freedom. She believes that it is only when she passes through the trials and tribulations of life that her souls would be completely thirst of knowledge. Sarojini Naidu further asks God not to give her gift or grief. She is delighted because the soul might not have to come back to deal with vagabond issues. The knowledge of the grave is mystic because nobody knows what happens at the grave goes beyond one’s ordinary senses; one can’t experience it while in this body. Neither does he remember how it was or what it was before human birth.

The Lord answers her prayer. Before this, He has stated that He would not disregard encounter both passionate rapture and despair at the same time but promises her to provide her everything, that her soul will "know all passionate rapture and despair...drink deep of joy and shall burn thee like a fire, and pain shall cleanse thee like a flame." So the Lord will let her enjoy many intense emotional experiences both good and bad. Here God makes us clear that when we go through the experiences of desiring joy, fame and love, we feel very good at the beginning but as the time passes our desire pushes us into manipulation which comes at the price of expectation and ends in resentment when outcomes are not met. Desire, then, is not desirable. It always implies suffering as well as other dirty little tricks like judgment and punishment. We have to go through the pain in life but eventually we learn a lesson that – pain “cleanses us like a flame, purging the dross from our desire”. As the lines reveal the idea:

…. pain shall cleanse thee like a flame,
To purge the dross from thy desire.

In the fifth stanza God promises the child to provide everything for what she prays. She is innocent. She doesn’t know for what she is pleading. She blindly prays for having the experiences of both good and bad. God informs her that after having experience of all the love, joys and highs and lows of life , her soul would not be satisfied but it will yearn to be released from the blind prayer and then tired and forgiven her soul will beg to learn about peace ,instead of intensity. It will want to know how to leave the fire and flame behind, the burning and cleansing, and simply experience quite, underrated peace. As Sarojini Naidu writes:

‘So shall thy chastened spirit yearn
To seek from its blind prayer release,
And spent and pardoned, sue to learn
The simple secret of My peace.

None never actually needed to learn through pain, and there was never anything to fear. Mystic mystery is a simple secret, nothing more. It’s God’s peace. At last the poet finds solace in the knowledge that Life and Death are merely the two faces of God-His Light and His Shadow. As the lines show:

Life is a prism of My light,
And Death the shadow of My face.

Here Sarojini Naidu compares life to a prism through which the color of life, including joy and sorrow are realization of the ultimate knowledge is achieved but death is like a shadow when the knowledge of the various aspects of life ceases.In the concluding stanza God bends from His sevenfold height with care to teach His children the meaning of His grace that where the sun has never shone there is also light, His light. A seeking cry comes not from us but from God Himself. God cries for us, His children, begging us to come home. The release is a call to the waking up that takes place when blind prayer turns into a sighted realization:

‘I, bending from my sevenfold height,
Will teach thee of My quickening grace,
Life is a prism of My light,
And Death the shadow of My face.’

Thus the poem concludes with a belief that life and death are interlinked between one another, reflecting each other. So Shadow and Light are just like birth and death, like night and day, like inhaling and exhaling. .

Similarly joy and pain are also interlinked within being. The answers received by the soul from the divine force reveal the nature of suffering, love, and pain with mystic vision. Through the prayer the poetess wants to share the sorrows of all persons in order to achieve satisfaction which makes her soul pure and chaste and she can easily learn the mystery of life and death as well as the supreme knowledge of the grave. It is possible only by the blessings of God that’s why she makes blind prayer to Him. Joy and pain bring one to near God because they are the echoes of the human heart and explain the meaning of light and shadow. The poetess beautifully tells us that all the happiness and sufferings of life only make us more pure- more near to God. Rameshwar Gupta writes that her poetry, “has the undertone of our daily sorrows and joys: it bears the echoes of a human heart.”[4]  That’s why she gets success dealing with sorrows and joys of life.Sarojini Naidu’s poetry is a torch which light guides one to understand and face various aspects of life. Paying a tribute to Sarojini Naidu, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel has indicated her presence to Indian writing with light, “Her (Mrs. Naidu’s) entry into any room or gathering was as though several candles were suddenly lit. Wherever she went, she lent a light and lustre which could penetrate through the darkest gloom.” [5]


All the references have been taken from the poem “The Soul's Prayer” reprinted from The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse. Ed. Nicholson & Lee. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1917.

  • Auslander, Joseph, 1958. Introduction, The Sceptred Flute: Song of India by Sarojini Naidu, Allahabad: Kitabistan.
  • Naidu , Sarojini , 1905. “Introduction.” The Golden Threshold, by Sarojini Naidu, London: William Heinmann.
  • Dwivedi, A. N., 1981. Sarojini Naidu and Her Poetry. Allahabad: Kitab Mahal, p.51.
  • Gupta, Rameshwar, 1993. “Sarojini Flouter of the Metaphysical Tradition.” In Sarojini Naidu: Great Women of Modern India-3, edited by Verinder Grover and Ranjana Arora, 291- 95. New Delhi: Deep & Deep Publications.
  • Patel, Sardar Vallabhbhai. Sarojini Devi: An Appreciation, by Prof. T. Vbhadrudu.


More by :  Prof. Dr. Ram Sharma

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07-Feb-2023 07:10 AM

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