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  • Fin-de-Siècle Indian English-Language Poetry:British Imperialism, India and the Irish Question

This article offers a close study of how three Indian authors (Avadh Behari Lall, Aurobindo Ghose, and Romesh Chunder Dutt) considered and represented Ireland. There remains a tendency to restrict the scope of any given fin-de-siècle Indian text to properly Indian foci for purely aesthetic lyrical pieces as much as for ardently nationalist didactic poetry. This encourages the perpetuation of British Orientalism’s cultural arrogance and renders too reductive a picture of late-nineteenth-century Indian literature’s range. The discussion explains how during the fin-de-siècle the three Indian English-language poets envisioned the evils of British imperialism as represented in the Irish Question. In their individual ways they trace a pattern of increasing doubt which pedagogical, poetical, and/or political strategy might best be employed to expose the ends of empire and to bring about the end of empire. [134 words]


fin-de-siècle, Indian English-Language Poetry, Avadh Behari Lall, Aurobindo Ghose, and Romesh Chunder Dutt, British Imperialism, the Irish Question

AS S. B. COOK HAS INSISTED, the “multilateral process of exchange and influence” between Ireland and India throughout the nineteenth century reveals how such “peripheral areas” of the British Empire always were “active, complex, and changing societies.”1 Obviously, there were significant differences between the experience of imperial rule in these two locations, owing to a wide range of factors (such as chronology, geography, language, race/ethnicity, and religion). Yet, in large part, many understood the situations of these two occupied territories to be comparable, and as a result of this perceived similarity, British administrators and politicians in particular employed an amazing array of intra-imperial analogies in criminal law, land reform, police organization, and press regulation.2 British officials were not the only ones to attempt to exploit the usefulness of such connections, however; as Sukanya Banerjee and Jill Bender have compellingly demonstrated, the perception of shared experience also led to a number of the fertile affiliations between Indian and Irish nationalists.3 Recourse to these sorts of comparisons certainly was not the exclusive province of politics either. According to Joseph Lennon, Irish writers “use the Orient allegorically” to “indirectly comment on cultural differences, nationalism, unionism, sectarianism, and imperialism.”4 Similarly, Julia M. Wright posits that “‘India’ is not India per se” in Irish writing but “the surface of a mirror sufficiently distorted to make what it reflects nearly unrecognizable.” Islam stands in for Anglicanism or Portuguese/Spanish mercantilism for British capitalist exploitation.5

Significantly, though, there remains a need for more sustained study of how Indian authors considered and represented Ireland. As Shesha-latha Reddy has noted, there was tremendous pressure placed on Indian English-language poets to limit themselves to exclusively [End Page 403] Indian contexts, since “acceptance by the literary establishments of England … was contingent upon the performance of an essentialism.”6 Whether or not such essentialism was actually performed by the Indian writer, the British reader, or both, the fact remains that the tendency to restrict the scope of any given fin-de-siècle Indian text to properly Indian foci is a pervasive one—for purely aesthetic lyrical pieces as much as for ardently nationalist didactic poetry. Yet such a tendency not only encourages the perpetuation of British Orientalism’s cultural arrogance but also establishes too reductive a picture of fin-de-siècle Indian literature’s range. It is indeed crucial, as Reddy rightly reminds her readers, to avoid a naïve positing of Indian English-language writing as “inherently revolutionary or subversive” in that “its very presence speaks to the hegemonic power of imperial education and rule” and in that its “implication within such structures negates any valorization of subversiveness.”7 At the same time, it also is important to acknowledge Leela Gandhi’s assertion that scholars need to “supplement the counternarrative of colonized readership” provided in Gauri Viswanathan’s Masks of Conquest (1989) with a “countermodel of literary autonomy that might be congenial … to the ethico-political demands of anticolonial thought.”8

Supporting such a countermodel, many works by any number of Indian fin-de-siècle authors testify to the great extent to which they actually feel comfortable preaching and teaching while writing on “extra-Indian” matters such as the Irish Question for what amounts (given that the Indian literacy rate in English is no more than one percent during this period) to an almost exclusively British audience. For example, Romesh Chunder Dutt, Sri Aurobindo Ghose, and Avadh Behari Lall—three Indian English-language poets living and publishing in India during the 1890s—politically identify themselves in their work with Ireland and with Irish political self-determination. This international focus, while certainly complementing rather than competing with the local cause of most Indian nationalist agendas, above all reveals the extent to which fin-de-siècle Indian English-language poetry contains a cosmopolitan component that ultimately should not be reduced to partial engagements with Irish nationalism merely as a means to covertly comment on India (even if, according to Lennon and Wright, this is the case where much Irish writing on India is concerned). Positioning their poetic speakers as informed and important voices on the Irish question, all three of these writers explicitly undertake the pedagogical [End Page 404] project of providing their British readers with some telling and timely instruction on the end(s) of empire in Ireland.

Avadh Behari Lall: An Emphatic “No”

In 1893, a young unknown poet named Avadh Behari Lall published The Irish Home Rule Bill: A Poetical Pamphlet in Calcutta. Lall never attained anything even close to the lasting literary fame and national celebrity that Dutt and Ghose achieved, yet his poem nonetheless stands as an absolutely crucial piece for any accounting of Indian poetic engagements with the Irish Question. Written on the occasion of Gladstone’s introduction of the second Home Rule Bill in Parliament (and in the wake of Dadabhai Naoroji’s historic election to the House of Commons in 1892), this intriguing topical text offers a scathing critique of British imperialism at the same time that it ultimately places its faith in the legislative process to right England’s wrongs. As his subtitle should suggest, Lall launches into his answer to the Irish Question with an explicitly pedagogical purpose—for, while it is indeed literally a very short printed individual literary work consisting of far fewer pages than a book proper, this poetical pamphlet is also a very pointed political polemic in the tradition of the tract or treatise.

The first fifty-five lines of Lall’s poem consist of twenty-eight separate rhetorical questions, each designed for his British readers to answer with an emphatic “No!” He repeatedly represents English oppression as slavery, torture, and tyranny. He rails against “co-ercion Bills,” “miscalled Union,” and Bloody Balfour while praising Patriots’ Leagues, Home Rule, and Parnell.9 More to the point, as the poser of this long series of rhetorical questions, he places himself in the position of a purposeful pedagogue who possesses privileged insight into the particular problems presented by the English imperialist presence in Ireland. The sheer force of such an overwhelming number of required reader responses almost borders on overkill, regardless of the serious nature of the situation he seeks to remedy, but he proceeds with such pressing insistence in part because truths which he holds to be self-evident (truths which should have led England to end its shameful subjugation of the Irish long ago) have been all-too-obviously occluded by an ongoing English onslaught of misleading misrepresentations.

The United Kingdom’s “Union” is “miscalled” not only because it was “by bribes gained” and by “fraud maintained,” but also because conservatives have “befool[ed]” so many in Ulster with their “preach[ing] that Erin’s strength lies in sword-rule.”10 As long as “Tories insist on th’ [End Page 405] oppressing trade” by making “ancient failings” into “examples,” so will “Irish leaders be great rebels called” and the “centuries of misrule” only continue while so-called “‘Enlightened’ men in freaks delight / Of great oppressions, legalized by might.”11 Even in “the reformed Nineteenth Century,” “misled statesmen others now mislead” by “preach[ing] the justices of misrule.”12

Lall, however, wishes to convince his audience to disavow such Unionist polemics and instead to embrace the gospel of Gladstone, the Grand Old Man. For the next thirty-one lines, he sings the praises of the Liberal prime minister, ultimately upholding him as the great sage of the age. Gladstone’s credentials as the archetypal Wise Old Man not only “come with all the weight / Of long experience” in the form of “full sixty years in Parliaments,” but what is more “his sagacious wit” has been so “sharpened” by “wisdom” that Lall insists there is no “name equal in sageness” anywhere in the whole wide world.13 Significantly, for Lall it is clear Gladstone (already in his eighties) has only a few short years left, at best, to his illustrious career (and, indeed, the Grand Old Man gave up his ghost in 1898). Thus, the particular pedagogy of the end that Lall endorses here literally correlates the end of Empire in Ireland with the end of Gladstone in Parliament. He explicitly identifies the Irish Question as the “last great case” the Prime Minister will “plead,” and so expresses an earnest wish that the “wisdom” and “eloquence” of the politician’s appeal for justice will manifest itself in “The fiery speech to which ev’ry one bends”—thereby “assuag[ing]” the Grand Old Man’s “last desire” and providing the “last joy” of his great life, that of “see[ing] the sunken [Irish Nation] rise.”14

Lall’s paean to Gladstone in this section of the poem ends with the hope that “‘Ireland’s Redeemer’ will be [his] future name, / A greater boast than her ‘Liberator’s’ fame.”15 Aware, though, how problematic it might appear to endorse the notion that the Irish need an English champion to win their liberty for them, he begins the next section not only by qualifying Gladstone’s Englishness through a simultaneous Celtification (“Welsh by marriage” and “Scotch by descent”) and internationalization (“he’s the Man of whole Earth”), but also by acknowledging a dozen Irish patriots, from the early O’Neils to Robert Emmet and Daniel O’Connell on down through Michael Davitt and Parnell.16

Lall’s lesson for his English readers in rehearsing such a roll call is to suggest it is only “On subjects’ love” that “an Empire’s solid base” may be built, and thus that “Britain’s glory and strength” can only consist “In respecting the rights of those who her obey,” “Not in bringing [End Page 406] more nations to the list / Of her subject-races”—in other words, in allowing the Irish to ascend from the status of a subject-race to true citizens through Home Rule.17 Lall likely has gleaned this particular line of argumentation (advocating for the full rights of imperial citizenship, which constitutes his primary pedagogical thrust in the final nineteen lines of the poem) from Naoroji, and so perhaps it is no surprise that he references the respected Indian M.P. in the very next line. He asserts that he has spoken so strongly in this poem “For his fellow-subjects’ good” even “though his [own] voice be weak” precisely because “a distinguished Countryman of [his]” has “back[ed] the Irish Cause” so vociferously.18 Interestingly, he characterizes Naoroji’s membership in Parliament as “A right to Ind by Central Finsbury lent,”19 which suggestively may be read not merely as a properly English right only temporarily lent to an Indian but also as a properly Indian (at least as much as an Irish) right, a right that should not have to be lent if there were both Indian and Irish Home Rule. But, significantly, Lall does not go on to press the potential opportunity to join the Indian cause to that of the Irish. His concern here is with “Ierne,” with his dream that before long “Erin the free” might celebrate the granting of Home Rule by singing, “Gladstone and Liberty.”20

Throughout the poem one finds Lall employing rhetorical strategies similar to those Banerjee has delineated as crucial to Naoroji’s prose engagements with un-British rule, especially the trope of familiality. Indeed, the poem opens with an image of a “bleed[ing]” Erin and a charge of “sororicide.”21 In addition to another sister reference, Lall also characterizes Ireland and England as brothers and as cousins.22 All of this effectively serves to counter the sort of consolidation of British identity Priti Joshi writes about in her discussion of A Tale of Two Cities, an increasingly typical English response not only to India post-Revolt but also to Ireland in response to the intensifying threat of Fenian violence.23 Banerjee, Amy E. Martin, Kavita Philip, and Wright all have noted the shift in anti-Irish discourse (beginning as early as the Catholic Emancipation Bill and picking up steam post-Famine on into the 1860s, 1870s, and 1880s) that was increasingly fueled by the scientification of race throughout the second half of the century.24 Given the controversy stirred up by Lord Salisbury’s racist response to Naoroji’s parliamentary campaigning and the then prime minister’s explicit positioning of race as a litmus test for who deserves rights of full citizenship, Lall’s appeal to familiality is not surprising since in spite of the angry rhetoric (especially early on), his ultimate goal is realization of [End Page 407] Home Rule, not complete independence. Lall’s penultimate wish, thus, is “May Grand Old Man’s attempt, noble and wise, / To heal the old sores and to stop just cries, / Be a fait accompli!”25 Obviously, there are plenty of old sores and just cries in India as well when it comes to the legacy of British imperialism, and certainly Lall likely expects his readers to make that cross-colonial connection, but he also would not want this to distract those readers’ attention from the more immediate context with which he is concerned—namely, how Home Rule in Ireland finally might be achieved through the joint efforts of an Indian M.P. and the English prime minister.

Aurobindo Ghose: Elegiac Retribution

Two years after the defeat of the second Home Rule Bill, another young poet, Aurobindo Ghose, published his first volume of English-language poetry, Songs to Myrtilla and Other Poems (1895), a collection printed at Baroda that includes within its contents three poetic meditations on the Irish Question. Ghose had been educated in England and had only recently returned to India. Although he would leave a lasting literary mark much later on with his epic work Savitri (1950), Ghose today is remembered for his fame first as a political revolutionary and then as a spiritual leader, not as a creative writer. When he published Songs to Myrtilla he was working as an academic and the private secretary to the Maharaja of the semi-independent Princely State of Baroda after finagling his way out of the career with the Indian Civil Service that his father had intended for him. At this stage, at least, still relatively fresh from his time in Britain, Ghose remains very interested in Ireland. Perhaps owing to Gladstone’s failure in Parliament, his approach to the Irish Question is altogether different from that of Lall. Whereas the latter optimistically celebrated the potential of the Grand Old Man’s last great legislative effort to inaugurate (through the end of un-British rule) a new beginning for both England and Ireland, Ghose’s poems tend to be more elegiac, if not ever giving in to despair. They do share Lall’s anger toward the long history of English oppression, though, and they settle into a more defiant stance. All three of his poems explicitly focus on Parnell, with no notice at all given to Gladstone. More significant still, all three direct their didactic energies toward the Irish themselves over the nature of their relationship to their fallen leader. Instead of drumming up support for a piece of legislation through an appeal to the court of English public opinion, Ghose strikes a more ominous, if not menacing, note as he severely castigates his Irish readers, intending to rile them up. [End Page 408]

Ghose builds up to this boiling point gradually, moving from mournful to militant as he expands his argument in each increasingly more substantial poem. In his earliest effort, the short six-line “Charles Stewart Parnell” (likely written on the occasion of his death), he opens by apostrophizing the great Irish Patriot: “O pale and guiding light.”26 While this light has not totally disappeared, it is now only as a “star unsphered.”27 Still, even if ultimately Parnell is presented as “a child of tragic earth, / Since vainly filled thy luminous doom of birth,” Ghose’s epitaph stresses the strength and power of this “Deliverer lately hailed.”28 Not only was Parnell “most feared, most hated, hated because feared,” but he is remembered for having “smot’st [our lords] with an edge surpassing swords!”29 Just as Ghose is able to subtly suggest an Indian sympathy for the plight of the Irish through the single word our placed in front of lords at the end of the poem’s second line, so he intimates the possibility of an Irish hope for a new beginning after this sad ending by closing with the uplifting, life-affirming final word, birth.30 Mourning and loss are harsh realities in the wake of Parnell’s death, but might not the future still hold the promise of the desired deliverance, after all?

In “Hic Jacet: Glasnevin Cemetery,” Ghose again forces his readers to follow him to his hero’s final resting place. Here, however, he reserves his most bitter spleen for Ireland itself rather than for the “alien masters” who had left “Erin, his mother, bleeding, chastised, bound, / Naked to imputation, poor, denied.”31 He opens by angrily charging all “Patriots” to look at Parnell’s grave and there “behold [their] guerdon.”32 Ghose’s frustration is so great precisely because Parnell had transformed Ireland from this helpless state into a powerful goddess: “Terrible and fair / With the eternal ivy in her hair, / Armed with clamorous thunder, how she stands / Like Pallas’ self the Gorgon in her hands.”33 Tragically, however, “her puissance will be easily past,” for in its rejection of Parnell “she herself has cast / Her fate behind her.”34 Yet especially as this was the fault of the Irish themselves and not owing to the invincibility of their British masters, Ghose insists the true lesson to be glossed from the grave in Glasnevin is (as with the end of “Charles Stewart Parnell”) one of hope rather than despair, for “the work [has] not [been in] vain / Since that which once has been may be again.”35 Indeed, Ireland may “this image yet recover,” as it was “fired / with godlike workings, brains and hands inspired.”36

As Ghose proceeds to paint a picture of this incredibly potent personification of the power of the Irish people, he seems to have multiple [End Page 409] purposes in mind. Is he merely imagining in his mind’s eye this truly revolutionary resurrection, or is he actually commanding her to reappear now (in imitation of Parnell himself, who originally had “raised her from her forlorn life / loosening the fountains of that mighty strife”) as he continues on to write, “So stand, the blush of battle on her cheek, / Voice made omnipotent, deeds that loudly speak, / Like some dread Sphinx”?37 In any case, given Ghose’s own purported terrorist activities against the British Empire in India just a decade later, surely he in part intends to intimidate his English readers by calling forth such a threatening image of Erin, an image with much more punch than the previous poem’s presentation of Parnell as a statesman whose power lay in “an edge surpassing swords.” Just as surely, though, this vision of Erin as victorious warrior suggests Ghose’s more primary pedagogical end—namely, simultaneously both to prick and to puff up his Irish readers. He wants to reveal to them what, thanks to Parnell, they still might be, this possibility “half patent to the eye, / Half veiled in formidable secrecy.”38 However, he cannot fully push past Ireland’s own abandonment of Parnell, bemoaning that the Irish did not reward his patriotism with a “throne / Guarded by grateful hearts,” but instead only gave him the ungrateful “guerdon” of “A broken heart and an unhonoured grave.”39 Haunted by Parnell’s ghost, Ghose reluctantly, perhaps self-righteously, retreats from the image of an invincible Ierne, leaving the sunshine “Patriots” in his audience with the shame of a solitary shade they themselves ushered into existence.

“Lines on Ireland,” the longest of the three poems at 140 lines, represents Ghose’s most substantial sermon on the Irish Question, with even more fire and brimstone than the earlier eulogies for Parnell. He opens by asking: “After six hundred years did Fate intend / [Ireland’s] perfect perseverance thus should end?”40 Down through centuries of English oppression, Ireland’s “weak estate / Could not conceal the goddess in her gait; / Goddess in her mood.”41 Accordingly, “that light was she / In whom races of weaker destiny / Their beauteous image of rebellion saw,” and Erin served as “A mirror to enslaved nations, never / O’ercome, though in the field defeated ever.”42 This long history of Irish resistance at long last has come to an end with Parnell’s fall. Now, “How changed,” laments Ghose, “how fallen from her ancient spirit!”—and, as in “Hic Jacet,” it is Ireland’s own mind-forg’d manacles rather than the alien masters themselves that are to blame: “not time, but thou / These ancient praises strov’st to disavow. / For ’tis not foreign force, nor weight of wars, / Nor treason, nor surprise, nor opposite stars, / Not [End Page 410] all these have enslaved nor can.”43 He instead proffers that “Men are fathers of their fate; / They dig the prison, they the crown command.”44 While once “royal,” when the Irish displayed “deeds of strength” in spite of “outward weakness,” their new inner weakness (namely, that they have been “to thine own self disloyal”) has led “The world’s great hope” to “[choose] / Misery, civil battle, [and] triumphant foes.”45

The poet’s pedagogical purpose with this preaching is, again, to envision a new beginning after the end of Erin’s “perfect perseverance.” Ghose begs his Irish readers: “Yet thine own self a little understand, / Unhappy country, and be wise at length.”46 He wants to reunite them with the “power within,” a power “Which could [Ireland] transfigure.”47 Aligning himself with “effective wisdom, skill to bend / All human things to one predestined end,” he “Renounce[s]” as “fools!” the “self-appointed crew / Who, having conquered by death’s aid, abuse / The public’s ear” in the vacuum left by Parnell’s passing.48 Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, in lines 86 and following Ghose explicitly invokes the ghost of Parnell once again, returning with his readers a third time to Glasnevin and its “hardly-honoured bier” to mourn how “the goal nigh won,” all Parnell’s “strenuous work” has been “at last … undone.”49 Despairingly he observes: “So falls it ever when a race condemned / To strict and lasting bondage, have contemned / Their great deliverer, self and ease preferring / To labour’s crown, by their own vileness erring.”50

Even more forcefully than in “Hic Jacet,” in “Lines” Ghose wants his soapbox to serve as a platform not merely for the public shaming of all who deserted their “great deliverer” in his hour of need but in the end more so to prepare the way for a new (re)claiming of Parnell’s legacy—by the Irish themselves, and also by all those who (now or ever in the future) are subjected to such subjugation. He resurrects Parnell as a figure who like Samson and Heracles may “triumph from the houses of the dead.”51 Indeed, it is with increasing audacity that he asserts Parnell’s spirit “into others’ deeds shalt pass / With force and tranquil fortitude thy dower, / An inspiration and a fount of power.”52 Again, he adamantly insists Parnell stands “a name and a possession” not only to his own “country” and his own “day,” but “where’er and when” any “Alien oppression maddened has the wise.”53 Invoking the imposing image of goddess-like retribution from the former poem, here Ghose as poet-prophet declares that the “mighty genius” of Glasnevin is “For ever thus preparing Nemesis / In ruling nations” whose “unjust power” has bred “Insolence, injustice, madness, outrage, scorn, / Its natural children.”54 Arising from the ashes of his disastrous demise, “The pupils of [End Page 411] [Parnell’s] greatness shall appear,” and “ris[ing] on throne-ascending wings,” shall crown him “father to a line of kings.”55 Taking all three poems together then, Ghose’s overall response to the recent setbacks for Irish Home Rule is born out of disappointment (if not dejection), but for him the figure of Parnell endures, reminding all interested parties not only of what might have been but also of what yet surely must be.

Romesh Chunder Dutt: Nostalgic Reflections

Just one year after the publication of Ghose’s Songs to Myrtilla, another poem entitled “Lines on Ireland” appeared in Calcutta as part of an Indian poet’s only volume of original English-language verse, Reminiscences of a Workman’s Life (1896). Romesh Chunder Dutt, the prominent Indian civil servant and writer, had already had penned multiple novels and, even more notably, numerous nonfiction works on history and socioeconomics. During the 1890s he served both as the first president of the Bengali literary society Bangiya Sahitya Parishad and as a president of the Indian National Congress. Approximately twenty years older than Lall and Ghose, Dutt had been living in India since 1871 (after spending his own college years in England). Interestingly, though, he moved back to Britain the year following Reminiscences of a Workman’s Life; in short order, with the publication of his still-celebrated English-language translations of the Mahabharata (1898) and the Ramayana (1899), his literary reputation eclipsed even that of his famous cousin, Toru Dutt. His commitment to Indian cultural and political nationalism certainly is not in question, yet “Lines on Ireland” and its companion poem “Lines on India” sound an even more despairing note about the prospects for the end of Empire (in either colony) than the work of Lall and Ghose, even if Dutt finally refuses to surrender his hopes for a future return to the respective glories of both countries.

In “Lines on India,” Dutt utilizes nature rather than politics as the entry point for its nostalgic reflections upon the tragic gap between the ancient glory of his homeland and its current state of demoralization. The experience of standing upon the shore of “once great Ganga” sets in motion the poet’s meditation on his own country’s fall from Freedom’s grace to “Freedom’s grave.”56 The mighty river’s “rushing waters,” “unchained and free,” cannot help but suggest to him that “the land [such a river] rollest o’er / Must be the land of liberty,” yet he is forced to confront the fact that Ganga’s “billows fierce and free” are not (or perhaps no longer are) some sort of personification of the lot in life now to be associated with most of the people who call its wide-ranging regions [End Page 412] home.57 He instead only is led to ask: “Is this the land of ancient pride / Where Freedom lived, where heroes bled”—for, though “every pass and every hill / Recalls the days of liberty,” though “every peak and rill” and vale and wood and lea all “Awake[n] one voice of maddening glee, / The thrilling voice of liberty,” there is “No echo” for this voice in the “haunts of men.”58 It is “in vain” that nature still seems to seek some sort of correspondent strain from India’s “peopled marts” and “hamlets.”59 It is the silence of the grave, not the “roar” of the Ganges, that speaks to the state of the Indian subcontinent owing to ongoing English oppression: “No sound, no breath! / A nation sleeps—the sleep of death!”60 “The children of a godlike race,” he mournfully reports, “Sleep senseless of their glorious past” and remain “Unconscious of their ancient name, / Unmindful of their father’s fame.”61 While the poem concludes by emphasizing his “Remembrance sweet” of days when India’s “glories [were] bright as Eastern Sun,” Dutt confesses he “sings of days now passed away” not because there is any real purpose in doing so (“What boots it then”), but merely “Because [he] cannot e’er forget / [His] ancient country once was great.”62 His hopes for a rebirth of both cultural greatness and political freedom in India remain muted—at best.

In “Lines on Ireland,” it is clear Dutt understands that the Indian and the Irish experiences of British rule do share some of the same crippling consequences. In the fourth stanza, he mentions often musing on Ireland’s “inglorious time, / [Its] poverty, [its] woes, [its] pains” while visiting “[its] ruined fanes.”63 Significantly, during some such moments, he continues on to confess, he has “thought too of another clime, / Far far across the billow’s roar, / Like thee distressed,—alas as poor!”64 This is, however, the poem’s only even implicit allusion to India. Whatever motivations might have moved Dutt to reverse this mirror’s reflection, his interest in Ireland is far from allegorical. Why else would he have felt any need to write a separate set of lines on India as well?

Indeed, a close reading of “Lines on Ireland” reveals he takes great pains to establish himself as a poet who possesses more than enough proper authority to pronounce upon the affairs of the Irish people and the particular problems related to their unique experience of an ongoing imperial occupation. This is obvious even from the apolitical opening stanzas, which read more like a travelogue than a tract or a treatise. In full Wordsworthian mode, he fondly recalls his memories of “Sweet Erin” as a pastoral paradise of hills, lakes, rills, vales, and streams through which he “strolled, light-hearted as thy roe” and “rowed [his] [End Page 413] light and swift canoe.”65 In the second and third stanzas he asserts his authority to speak on Ireland by cataloguing six legendary places he has visited, from Avoca and Killarney in the south to Dunluce Castle and the Giant’s Causeway in the north.66

After that transitional fourth stanza, however, Dutt turns his full attention to the topic that has occasioned the poem in the first place. Like Ghose in the other “Lines on Ireland,” Dutt is truly troubled by what he perceives to be a lack of patriotic fervor in contemporary Ireland. Unlike Lall (who serves up a string of twenty-eight separate must clauses as part of what is technically one long fifty-five-line rhetorical question, until he at last turns to his Gospel of Gladstone homily in reply) or Ghose (who opens only with a single two-line question, certainly not rhetorical, before launching into the lecturing mode which from that point on he never really abandons, even when he does finally pose one other question, this time about his Promethean Parnell, in lines 92–100), Dutt provides three successive sets of two interrelated interrogatives across the first four lines of each stanza, which in every instance he immediately follows with his own two-line call-and-response answers.

First, he asks if “The Irish heart, that owns no lord, / Still beats … for Freedom’s cause” and if any soldiers still draw “gleam[ing]” “Irish sword[s]” “for [their] country.”67 Sadly, he concludes, “Alas! The sword rusts on the wall, / The heart but weeps on Ireland’s fall.”68 He then asks if “the patriot’s ire” “glows not bright” “In every Irish bosom still” and if “Erin’s harp” still wakes “the note of fire” with its “maddening peal.”69 Very much in agreement with Ghose’s assessment of the current state of Irish patriotism, in this stanza Dutt adopts and/or adapts a similar sort of pedagogical strategy to that of the former, here not merely reporting that an affirmative answer simply is not possible (as in the fifth stanza) but, rather, upbraiding his Irish readers with some prickly preaching of his own. “Hide patriot! Hide thy blush of shame,” he demands, for “For ever hushed” seems now Erin’s “harp of flame.”70

Lastly, he wonders if Ireland must “Remain in endless penury” and “mourn the night that knows no day,” even though Ireland historically has been the “home of patriots bold and free.”71 In this seventh stanza, the poet’s response is an ambiguous one. In reply, he exclaims: “Queen of a thousand ocean wave! / Land of the Shamroc and the brave!”72 One reading is that Dutt is still following in the footsteps of Ghose, attempting to provoke general guilt for the Irish people’s frustrating failure to live up to the legacy of liberty bequeathed to them by their forebears [End Page 414] but also ultimately preferring to restore their confidence and puff up their pride with an appeal to that very sense of greatness that seems gone. Of course, it also may be that these two lines instead only express his deep disappointment and utter exasperation that such a shining example of fierce independence should now no longer exist.

Regardless of the extent to which the poet’s position is more the former or rather like the latter, what does seem clear is that he is worn out with wondering whether Ireland might ever be returned to its erst-while glory by whichever inspirational pedagogy or inevitable resurrection. As Dutt begins the eighth and final stanza, he implores (begs, perhaps commands) the Future to “rend [its] misty veil”73 and reveal the fate of Fenianism. In the end, his own hopes here could hardly be less lucid. His most earnest desire for the Irish, for Erin, is the following fantasy: “A glorious day is still to shine, / And as in the antique days this isle / Shall be once more the dearest shrine / Of freedom.”74 The poem finishes with a flourish of promise, if not prophecy. Yet Dutt’s dream seems based solely on his own willful wish fulfillment; there is no indication whatsoever how or why such a vision might come to pass. Caught between his desire for a new dawning of freedom from English oppression in Ireland that the beginning of the new century just on the horizon seems to promise and his disappointment at the sudden decline of the enthusiasm for Irish political self-determination that had fired the hearts and minds of so many patriots during the past few decades of the nineteenth century and truly for centuries, Dutt’s “Lines on Ireland” cannot even pretend to provide a map or path to follow toward the final destination of some future independence. Rather, all his poem can do is to try to preserve in his readers an undiminished sense of possible hope from, if not unshaken belief in, the prospects entailed by his provoking pedagogy of the end.

As one moves through the final decade of the nineteenth century following these three Indian English-language poets as they expound upon the evils of British imperialism as particularly represented in the Irish Question, one may trace a pattern of increasing doubt about, of decreasing clarity on, which (pedagogical, poetical, and/or political) strategy, if any, might best be employed both to expose the ends of empire and to bring about the end of empire. Avadh Behari Lall, Aurobindo Ghose, and Romesh Chunder Dutt each is in his own way aware of the many productive possibilities inherent in suggesting how [End Page 415] the Indian and Irish experiences of British rule may be perceived as analogous. Still, it truly does them a disservice to reduce their literary representations of Ireland to allegorical commentaries on Indian oppression. These works are serious, sincere engagements with the Irish Question, works that evince not only a profound sympathy for the Irish but also an impressive familiarity with Ireland itself—with its countryside, its history, and its recent politics.

The poems considered here reinforce Gandhi’s and Mary Ellis Gibson’s emphases, respectively, upon affective communities and upon intra-imperial networks of aesthetic affiliation and literary conversation/exchange.75 They meaningfully testify to the global (not merely local) scope of Indian English-language poetry, displaying a truly broad range of responses to the Irish Question even as they reveal all three poets’ penetrating individual insights into the nature of imperial rule and the politics of nationalism beyond the “borders” of the Indian subcontinent. But they also meaningfully testify to the powerful attractions for these poets of pedagogies of the end that, teaching at the end (of Parnellism, of Empire, of the century itself) are able simultaneously to allow for enough necessary emphasis on both teaching the end (of Parnellism, of Empire, and/or of the century itself) to their anxious and apprehensive audiences while also (re)imagining a new beginning after the end (of Parnellism, of Empire, and/or of the century itself).

Chris Foss
University of Mary Washington


1. S. B. Cook, Imperial Affinities: Nineteenth Century Analogies and Exchanges Between India and Ireland (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 1993), 18, 11.

2. Ibid., 29. Criminal law, land reform, police organization, and press regulation are the arenas Cook identifies and discusses throughout the book.

3. See Sukanya Banerjee, Becoming Imperial Citizens: Indians in Late-Victorian Empire (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010); Sukanya Banerjee, “Political Economy, Gothic, and the Question of Imperial Citizenship,” Victorian Studies, 47.2 (2005), 260–71; and Jill Bender, “The Imperial Politics of Famine: The 1873–74 Bengal Famine and Irish Parliamentary Nationalism,” Éire-Ireland, 42 (2007), 132–56.

4. Joseph Lennon, Irish Orientalism: A Literary and Intellectual History (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2004), xviii.

5. Julia M. Wright, Ireland, India, and Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 23.

6. Sheshalatha Reddy, “Critical Introduction,” in Mapping the Nation: An Anthology of Indian Poetry in English, 1870–1920, Sheshalatha Reddy, ed. (New York: Anthem Press, 2012), xxiii.

7. Ibid., xlviii.

8. Leela Gandhi, Affective Communities: Anticolonial Thought, Fin-de-Siècle Radicalism, and the Politics of Friendship (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006), 151. [End Page 416]

9. Avadh Behari Lall, The Irish Home Rule Bill: A Poetical Pamphlet, in Mapping the Nation: An Anthology of Indian Poetry in English, 1870–1920, Sheshalatha Reddy, ed. (New York: Anthem Press, 2012), 19–24; lines 28, 10, 18, 40, 41, 44.

10. Ibid., lines 27, 28, 21, 22.

11. Ibid., lines 20, 19, 13, 3, 29–30.

12. Ibid., lines 33, 36, 39.

13. Ibid., lines 56–57, 58, 59, 66.

14. Ibid., lines 73, 75, 76, 80, 84.

15. Ibid., lines 85–86.

16. Ibid., lines 103, 104, 107, 112, 117, 122, 124.

17. Ibid., lines 130, 134, 137, 135–36.

18. Ibid., lines 144, 138, 139.

19. Ibid., line 141.

20. Ibid., lines 146, 149, 150.

21. Ibid., line 1.

22. Ibid., lines 51, 25–26, 6.

23. Priti Joshi, “Mutiny Echoes: India, Britons, and Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities,” Nineteenth-Century Literature, 62.1 (2007), 48–87.

24. See Banerjee, note 35; Amy E. Martin, Alter-Nations: Nationalisms, Terror, and the State in Nineteenth-Century Britain and Ireland (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2012); Kavita Philip, “Race, Class and the Imperial Politics of Ethnography in India, Ireland and London, 1850–1910,” Irish Studies Review, 10.3 (2002), 289–302; and Wright, note 34.

25. Lall, The Irish Home Rule Bill, 147–49; lines 147–149.

26. Aurobindo Ghose, “Charles Stewart Parnell,” in Mapping the Nation: An Anthology of Indian Poetry in English, 1870–1920, 132; line 1.

27. Ibid., line 1.

28. Ibid., lines 5–6, line 2.

29. Ibid., lines 3, 4.

30. Ibid., lines 2, 6.

31. Aurobindo Ghose, “Hic Jacet: Glasnevin Cemetery,” in Anglophone Poetry in Colonial India, 1780–1913, Mary Ellis Gibson, ed. (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2011), 359; ines 4, 2–3.

32. Ibid., line 1.

33. Ibid., lines 5–8.

34. Ibid., lines 9, 10–11.

35. Ibid., lines 11–12.

36. Ibid., lines 13, 13–14.

37. Ibid., lines 19–20, 15–17.

38. Ibid., lines 17–18.

39. Ibid., lines 21–22, 23, 24.

40. Aurobindo Ghose, “Lines on Ireland,” in Mapping the Nation: An Anthology of Indian Poetry in English, 1870–1920, 132–36; lines 1–2.

41. Ibid., lines 7–9.

42. Ibid., lines 9–11, 13–14.

43. Ibid., lines 16, 27–31.

44. Ibid., lines 34–35. [End Page 417]

45. Ibid., lines 43, 38, 47, 82, 83–84.

46. Ibid., lines 36–37.

47. Ibid., lines 39, 45.

48. Ibid., lines 51–52, 53, 58, 54–56.

49. Ibid., lines 87, 99, 100.

50. Ibid., lines 101–104.

51. Ibid., line 122.

52. Ibid., lines 124–26.

53. Ibid., lines 128, 127, 129, 131.

54. Ibid., lines 123, 132–133, 133, 134–135.

55. Ibid., lines 137, 136, 140.

56. Romesh Chunder Dutt, “Lines on India,” in Mapping the Nation: An Anthology of Indian Poetry in English, 1870–1920, 29–30; lines 1, 12.

57. Ibid., lines 3, 5, 9–10, 8.

58. Ibid., lines 13–14, 19–20, 21, 23–24, 26.

59. Ibid., lines 25, 27, 28.

60. Ibid., lines 7, 29–30.

61. Ibid., lines 33, 32, 35–36.

62. Ibid., lines 43, 46, 38, 27, 41–42.

63. Romesh Chunder Dutt, “Lines on Ireland,” in Mapping the Nation: An Anthology of Indian Poetry in English, 1870–1920, 30–32; lines 20–21, 19.

64. Ibid., lines 22–24.

65. Ibid., lines 1, 3, 5, 2, 4.

66. Ibid., lines 7–8, 17–18, 11–12, 9–10.

67. Ibid., lines 25–26, 27, 28.

68. Ibid., lines 29–30.

69. Ibid., lines 31, 32, 34, 33, 34.

70. Ibid., lines 35, 36.

71. Ibid., lines 38, 39, 40.

72. Ibid., lines 41–42.

73. Ibid., line 43.

74. Ibid., lines 44–47.

75. See Mary Ellis Gibson, Indian Angles: English Verse in Colonial India from Jones to Tagore (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2011). [End Page 418]