Friday, September 20, 2019

Poem - The Laburnum Top - Class 11 English Hornbill

The Laburnum Top - Text
Laburnum Tree

The Laburnum top is silent, quite still
In the afternoon yellow September sunlight, A few leaves yellowing, all its seeds fallen.

Till the goldfinch comes, with a twitching chirrup
A suddenness, a startlement, at a branch end.
Then sleek as a lizard, and alert, and abrupt,
She enters the thickness, and a machine starts up
Of chitterings, and a tremor of wings, and trillings —
The whole tree trembles and thrills.
It is the engine of her family.
She stokes it full, then flirts out to a branch-end
Showing her barred face identity mask

Then with eerie delicate whistle-chirrup whisperings
She launches away, towards the infinite

And the laburnum subsides to empty.

Word Meaning of the Poem Laburnum Top

Word Meaning
laburnum Laburnum, sometimes called golden chain or golden rain, is a genus of two species of small trees in the subfamily Faboideae of the pea family Fabaceae.
goldfinch a kind of bird, a brightly coloured finch with yellow feathers in the plumage.
twitching 1a : a brief spasmodic contraction of the muscle fibers. b : a slight jerk of a body part. 2 : an act of twitching especially : a short sudden pull or jerk.
chirrup make high-pitched sounds; "the birds were chirping in the bushes"
startlement the state of being strongly impressed by something unexpected or unusual. the look of startlement in her eyes when she found herself at the wedding seated next to her ex-boyfriend.
chittering a chirping noise
tremor of wings an involuntary quivering movement(of wings)
trillings produce a quavering or warbling sound, chirruping, twittering
tremble (of a person, a part of the body, or the voice) shake involuntarily, typically as a result of anxiety, excitement, or frailty.
thrill (v.) cause (someone) to have a sudden feeling of excitement and pleasure.
stoking (the engine) add coal or other solid fuel to (a fire, furnace, boiler, etc.).
flirt out (of a bird) wave or open and shut (its wings or tail) with a quick flicking motion.
barred face identity mask
  mask having bars or lines like pattern
eerie strange and frightening.

Summary of the Poem

Goldfinch Bird

The poem “The Laburnum Top” by Ted Hughes describes the mutual relation between a Laburnum Tree and a goldfinch. Both of them are yellow in colour (the tree is yellow because of its flowers) and quite beautiful in appearance.

The Laburnum Tree is beautiful, large but quite silent and getting naked because of winter. However, the bird, Goldfinch appears from the sky and soon the whole tree is surrounded by the sweet chirps of the bird and her young ones. It was previously dead and now it seems to be alive and shaking until the bird vanishes away again. Dead silence prevails.

The poem has been divided into three stanzas. There is not set rhyme scheme. The first stanza describes the tree before the bird reaches it. The second stanza describes the coming of the bird and the final stanza tells the condition of the tree when the bird goes away.

In the first stanza, the poet says that he saw a Laburnum Tree (with its yellow flowers). In his words, “The Laburnum top is silent“. The tree is still and looks dead-like in the day time of September. Even the sunlight is also yellow. As it is the time of autumn, the leaves of the tree have turned yellow and its seeds have fallen off it.

In this stanza, the poet uses the image “yellow” colour repeatedly. First the tree’s flowers are yellow, then its leaves have also turned yellow and the sunlight is also yellow.

The yellow color symbolises beauty (because of flowers, which, though have fallen off in the form of seeds), death (because of yellow leaves) as well as silence (day time without rain or wind). In the whole stanza, the poet is trying to describe the miserable condition of the Laburnum Tree which is silent, dying and without seeds (useless).

The death-like scene however changes as soon as the goldfinch comes with a twitching chirrup. Goldfinch is a bright yellow coloured bird. Twitching chirrup means “short chirping sounds”.

The bird is quite precautious while sitting at a branch end of the tree and has sudden quick movements. Perhaps it is looking out for any danger that might be there.

It then goes into the thick bark of the Laburnum Tree smoothly but abruptly with alertness. As soon as she enters the tree (her nest is inside the Laburnum Tree), a machine starts up of chitterings, and a tremor of wings, and trillings.

The image of machine here refers to the young ones of the bird. A machine makes a lot of noise when it starts. Similarly, when the young birds see their mother they start chirping like a machine, flattering their wings in joy as their mother has come with food. They were hungry as well as sad being far from their mother.

Now the whole tree trembles and thrills because of the mother bird and her young ones. The poet probably wants us to feel how a solitary and silent tree becomes alive because it has given space to the bird and her young ones. The birds have gotten shelter and the tree in return has got life.

The goldfinch is thus the engine of her family which includes the Laburnum tree as well. According to the poet it fills them with fuel i.e. it gives food to the young ones and thrill to the tree. Having done that, she again flies to a branch-end. Only her dark-coloured striped face is visible as it is yellow and hence becomes invisible in the yellow leaves of the tree.

Reaching the branch-end of the tree, it makes strange but sweet chirping sounds and then begins his journey towards the infinite i.e. the sky and the Laburnum Tree again becomes silent again.

The Laburnum Top Questions and Answers

  1. What do you notice about the beginning and the ending of the poem?

    ANSWER: The first line of the poem, "The Laburnum top is silent, quite still" and the last line of the poem, "And the laburnum subsides to empty" indicate that before the arrival and departure of the bird the laburnum top was quiet and still. 

  2. To what is the bird’s movement compared? What is the basis for the comparison?

    ANSWER: The bird's movement is compared to that of a lizard. When the bird comes back with food to feed the chicks and enters the thickness of the laburnum top, the way the bird moves reminds the poet of the movement of a lizard in its abruptness, sleekness and alertness.  

  3. Why is the image of the engine evoked by the poet?

    ANSWER: "It is the engine of her family", the engine is a key component in a machinery that gets the job done. The arrival of the bird and the trillings of the young checks in response make the tree alive like an engine. The tree makes it possible the bird and her chicks are safe and are able to move forward in the life process.

  4. What do you like the most about the poem?

    ANSWER: I like the imagery of laburnum tree as the engine of the goldfinch family coming to life with tremors and trillings when the bird arrives to feed her young chicks. The use of literary devices like simile and alliterations make the poem more sonorous, appealing and meaningful.

  5. What does the phrase "her barred face identity mask" mean?

    British Goldfinch with 'barred face identity mask'
    The phrase "her barred face identity mask" means the unique pattern of goldfinches found in the United Kingdom where the poet belonged to. The goldfinch birds have a distinct mask like pattern on their head as if wearing a mask. 

Friday, February 8, 2019

Summary - Glory at Twilight

The story begins with the description of the slow moving, narrow-gauge Indian train which had an awkward freak of an engine. It usually stopped unscheduled and unauthorized for no valid reason. Some of the passengers grumbled and thought of complaining to Authority or to the Press. Some other passengers availed of the opportunity to get merrily out of the compartment for a breath of fresh air and a view of the green fields.

Satyajit was a passenger in that train. He intended for a cigarette but gave up such thought afterwards. He told himself to restrain from luxuries and to ration his smoke. For over a month he has become a different man. He could not afford the unrestricted luxury of chain smoking. Life had come down to stark realities far away from the lights of dream. Saytajit went round and round along the orbit of reminiscence pulled by an invincible force. He had attained control of the banking establishment when fortune was in his way. Starting as a mere clerk he had become the Managing Director of the bank.

Satyajit was tall and thin and was forty with sharp features. He wore smart glasses to hide the hated glare in his eyes. His hair was receding on his temple in wide smooth patches. His thin mouth suggested his strength of will. He breathed heavily on his present plight, which has become an obsession with him. With the sudden collapse of his bank all his private property was gone overnight. He had lost all his equities, the house on Tagore Street and the two cars. Therefore, he had to travel on that wretched train. His wife was away with her parents at Delhi. She was unaware of the extent of his ruin.

Satyajit received the news of the birth of his child. Satyajit sold off his diamond ring to send his wife money for the name giving ceremony. His wife knew all about his earlier life. That was like storybook stuff. Born in a humble village, Satyajit had struggled hard to attain that height. He was appointed as a clerk in a bank. The range of his life was quite dramatic. It was all about a forged cheque for Rs. 2000/-. The cheque was presented for encashment.

The man who presented the cheque looked frightened. His hand shook because the cheque was a forged one. The consciousness of his own guilt and the fear made him nervous and timid. Although signature tallied, the clerk suspected its authenticity. The clerk withheld it by ringing up the actual account holder. The man was caught. He admitted that he had committed forgery because his wife was suffering from tuberculosis. He had to forge the cheque to collect money to buy medicine. By detecting this case, the clerk became an accountant. At the bank, Satyajit felt contempt rather, than pity for the man in the thrill of his own achievements. Ironically, this incident ultimately paved the way for his promotion and prosperity. Though he had all the regrets for the man detected for forgery and put behind the bars.

With his trembling hand, that wretched fellow had turned the wheel of fortune for the clerk. Since then the wheel attained volition of its own and moved continuously. He had every reason to be grateful to the forger. But it was too late to seek him out in order to give him a chance to live. Rather Satyajit needed a chance for live. Each wrong step was now clear in time’s perspective. If the success had come fast, failure had come faster. Just before his journey, he received a letter, which was about the wedding of his Srinath Uncle’s fifth daughter Beena. “That was to take place on the 20th of that month. Satyajit was present in the marriage of the other daughters. Satyajit’s benediction can only be helpful for Srinath to pull him through the present daughter crisis.

Srinath was Satyajit’s neighbor at Shantipur village. There was no blood relation between them. Srinath had a belief that others would bear the brunt at the marriage of his daughters. Satyajit was liberal in the days of his prosperity. It was a matter of pride and self-satisfaction for him at that time. When Satyajit was young, the villagers had not seen any special brilliance in him. But his wealth could take him to a higher stage. But all that has come to an end. Satyajit had fallen from his castle in the clouds. He had to cautious before he spent every rupee. Satyajit made up his mind to go to Santipur to attend the marriage ceremony. The rural natural scene had been his starting point once again both inwardly and outwardly. He would also avail chance to look at his ancestral house and fishpond. He liked to give them to his wife as his last gift. So he had intimated Uncle Srinath that he would attend the marriage.

At the platform, the crowd came rushing towards Satyajit as he stepped down from the train. They welcomed him with a small girl garlanding him. Satyajit bent his neck to receive the offer. Satyajit was given a warm welcome. He was called as the glory of the motherland. He was welcomed in a chorus while the tricolor flag approvingly on the tall bamboo pole. In the village, a group of ladies came forward to wash his feet. But Srinath wanted Beena to wash and wipe his reverent feet. Beena was shy, slender with large pensive eyes in a graceful face. He smiled at her and touched her hair in the gesture of blessing and wished that groom to be worthy of Beena. He was served with a plateful of sweets and a glass of whey. The other daughters Kamini, Damini and Sahashi sat near him fanning with palm leaf fans.

Satyajit was praised by Beena’s mother and said that her daughters would have still remained unmarried had he not helped them. She wiped off her two grateful drops of tears. Srinath told about the arrangement of the marriage. Beena was given the old jewellery of her mother. Her three married sisters gave her gifts like sari, jacket, chemise and brass utensils. Satyajit had Rs. 200/- in total. He decided to give Rs. 101/- since Been a had all he needed. He wanted to save Rs. 50/- to buy a perambulator for his newborn son. Satyajit was treated as the pride of the village. He was entreated to present himself before the people who sat waiting as his devotees.

Satyajit followed his host to his devotees seated waiting on a floor mat. There was also the schoolmaster among them who had taught him as a boy. The schoolmaster had predicted that the Satyajit would be a High Court Judge. Satyajit told that he was not a High Court Judge. Arithmetic was his subject of fear. The old man said that the twin Goddesses of knowledge and wealth would down together on Satyajit.

Satyajit decided to enjoy himself. He felt sad for not coming to Shantipur to bask in the people’s homage. He wanted to be happy for the day even with a false echo. He wanted to bask in the twilight glory of his life. Satyajit went round the village meeting the elders through the rest of the day. He sipped green coconut water offered to him. He fondly visited his house his house let out to a tenant. The small house gave him a feeling of security, which he could not get, even from his palatial city house. He spent some time by his leased out fishpond and caught a big sized carp. Srinath praised him. He said that the curry prepared from that auspicious fish would be served to the newlyweds when they break their marriage fast at midnight.

The groom’s party arrived in ox carts and palanquins by the evening. Conches blew and the women gathered gave their shrilling greetings. Satyajit wanted to give Rs 101/-. Srinath requested him to give Rs. 2001/- towards cash dowry. Srinath said that only last item awaited his benediction. Satyajit felt burning inside. Srinath told that it would be a drop in the ocean of hism fortune. Satyajit asked why he did such a small amount to a millionaire. Satyajit wanted to tell about his misery. But he could not get a chance to tell it. Satyajit took an excuse that he was in a hurry and hence was not well prepared for the occasion. He wanted if someone in the village would advance a loan.

Srinath rushed out of the house with panic in his face. Satyajit sat quiet and looked much tired. His erstwhile peace had gone. He liked to see the face of the newborn son who would never ride a perambulator. Srinath came back and said that Harish, the moneylender would give the cash but he needed security, as he was doubtful of the repayment. Srinath’s face bore helpless sadness as he mumbled that the groom’s father was a man of stone. He would break off the marriage unless cash was paid before the ceremony started. Satyajit felt for his purse once again and decided to give Rs. 151/-.

Srinath told that Harish was willing to pay against the security of his house and fishpond. Satyajit wondered at the value of his house and the fishpond if they were more valuable than his signature. The house and the fishpond was his only possession. These were all he could give to his wife. Srinath came with folded hands before Satyajit in order to overcome the daughter’s crisis. Satyajit agreed to the condition and the problem was solved. The villagers hated the moneylender Harish for his activities. The story presents the greatness of Satyajit.