Introduction of the Poem
Sarojini Naidu’s poetry is steeped in Indian theme and colour. She loved the common folk of India, their joy and sorrow, their occupation and she celebrated those in many of her famous poems. Indian customs and traditions, faith and festivals, trial and tribulations have fascinated her. “The Bangle Sellers” occupies the third section of her second book “The Bird of Time”. Mountains and meadows and streams are invoked in the poem because the glass sellers in a temple fair especially in Hyderabad (the home of Sarojini Naidu) are usually banjarins, women from a nomadic tribe called “banjaras”.
Summary of the Poem
The poem is about bangle-sellers talking about the various kinds of bangles they carry with them, and about the women who buy them. The poem describes the everybody life of bangle-sellers as well. The speaker of the poem is one such bangle seller and in the first two lines he describes what it is like to carry precious, ‘shining loads’ of bangles to the temples, fairs and other such places where women can buy them. The third line is akin to a bangle seller’s cry for the sale of his bangles. He calls out to women who might buy these bangles. He thinks these bangles are the token of happy lives and happy marriages.
In stanza 2 of the bangle-seller says that they carry different kinds of bangles, each cater to different types of women with different needs and preferences. He says that some are blue and silver like the mist in the mountains, which are fit for the maiden’s wrist. Some bangles are of reddish hue like the flushed buds found along a stream. Some of the bangles glow like newborn leaves, owing to the dew and water from the stream. These are all representative of a young girl in her prime. Some bangles are of the colour yellow like sunlit corn fields. They represent the happiness of a bride-to-be on the morn of her wedding. Then there are bangles which are flame coloured – red, orange; symbolic of a bride’s passion and desire, especially on her wedding night.
These bangles are luminous and transparent, but also tender. The tinkling sound they make reminds one of the sound of a new bride’s laughter and the clear, tender finish of the bangles bespeak her tears as he leaves her childhood home for her husband’s.
The last stanza focusses on the life of a woman after she is married. The bangles for these women are purple with gold and grey flecks. They are representatives of a woman who is of middle age or who has reached the mid-point of her life, where she has reaped the rewards of her strife. This is the age when she has already begotten sons and is proud of her life as she supports her husband, be it in life or when worshipping the household gods.
Critical Appreciation of the Poem
Naidu’s poetry is best known for her use of imagery and contemporary Indian themes. Among her other poems, this poem stands out as a social message that not only discusses the lives of Indian women but also the lives of bangle sellers. Although the poem focuses extensively on the stages in the life of women, it portrays the lives of the bangle sellers as well. Not once is the poverty or the hardships of their vocation mentioned in the poem save the ‘shining loads’, which denotes the heaviness of bangles.
The bangle seller employs a joyful voice which makes us forget that their livelihoods depend on the sale of these bangles. The women in their lives are all portrayed as happy, probably because the happiness of the bangle-seller relies upon the happiness of these women. In a nutshell, their livelihood depends on these bangles and thus, they must be presented as tokens of happiness.
The poem progresses step by step as if it is passing through each phase of the life of a women with her. The first stanza relates to us the premise of the poem. The second stanza focuses on maidenhood. By maidenhood Naidu means virginity. Thus, the colours chosen by her represent purity like the blue and silver mist of mountains, shades of pink of yet to blossom flowers or the clear dew drops of new born leaves. This bas connotations to new beginnings and the promise of life.
The third stanza talks about woman, who, is about to become a bride. The colour chosen in the group is a lively yellow that represents the hope she has for her future and also her happiness. The imagery used here is energetic and lively like corn fields bathed in sunlight. The second part of this stanza portrays the love a new bride has for her husband. Naidu chooses the apt colour scheme of reds and oranges. The ‘flame’ Naidu talks about has sexual connotations to it. It is a euphemism for the consummation of her marriage with her husband.
The fourth stanza talks about the pride of a woman who has lived girlhood and bridehood and motherhood and earned a position as a matriarch. It is the phase in her life when her struggles have borne fruit. Therefore, this stanza has the air of royalty and pride etched to it. That is why the colours chosen to describe the bangles for a matriarch are purple and gold. The specks of grey and the touch of maturity that comes with age.
However, critics have questioned in Naidu’s portrayal of women in stereotypical boxes in his poem. Here poem discusses only three categories in a woman’s life-maidenhood, wifehood and motherhood. On one hand, the poem fails to recognize other areas of a woman’s life, where women have an independent identity , one which is free from restricting labels made by a patriarchal society. Even when Naidu talks about a woman bearing children, she mentions only boys.
Perhaps, the role model for this poem was a specific woman she knew. But on the other hand, she write a poem that has strong sexual connotations. It is also probable that this is an ironic take on the lives of women during the time she was writing this poem. Naidu was instrumental in encouraging women empowerment. She encouraged women to get involved in the freedom movement against colonial rule. She herself was a big part of the movement and became the President of the INC. It could have been her way of speaking out against patriarchal constraints in ironic terms.
“Bangle sellers are we who bear
Our shining loads to the temple fair
Who will buy these delicate, bright
Rainbow-tinted circles of light?
Lustrous tokens of radiant lives
For happy daughters and happy wives.”
Explanation : The bangle sellers are out to sell their bangles and they are heading towards the temple fair where daughters and wives of the surrounding villages throng to buy their bangles. The happy women embellish themselves with bright and multicolored bangles.
The bangles themselves are, as it were, made of light. In this way they correspond to the happy and lighted side of people’s lives. The bangle sellers are crying out their litany in order to attract the attention of the buyers. They know that the bangles would get their prospective buyers in the happy daughters and the happy wives of the villages. In this way the bangles turn out to be the symbol of happy life itself.
“Some are meet for a maiden’s wrist
Silver and blue as the mountain mist
Some are flushed like the buds that dream
On the tranquil brow of a woodland stream
Some are aglow with the bloom that cleaves
To the limpid glory of new born leaves.”
Explanation : The second stanza focuses on maidenhood. By maidenhood Naidu means virginity. Thus, the colours chosen by her represent purity like the blue and silver mist of mountains, shades of pink of yet to blossom flowers or the clear dew drops on new born leaves. This has connotations to new beginnings and the promise of life. The Nature imageries in this part are exquisite.
The poet imagines that buds are dreaming on the slope of the river stream. They are yet to open up their eyes. Then there is the imagery of the new born leaves. The maiden are compared to the two Natural objects signifying the stage prior to maturation.
“Some are like fields of sunlit corn
Meet for a bride on her bridal morn
Some, like the flame of her marriage fire
Or, rich with the hue of her heart’s desire
Tinkling, luminous, tender and clear
Like the bridal laughter and bridal tear.”
Explanation : The third stanza talks about a woman who is about to become a bride. The colour chosen in this group is a lively yellow and flame like that represents the hope that she has for her future and also her happiness. The imagery used here is energetic and lively like corn fields bathed in sunlight.
The second part of this stanza portrays the love a new bride has for her husband. Naidu chooses the apt colour scheme of reds and oranges. The ‘flame’ Naidu talks about has sexual connotations to it. It is a euphemism for the consummation of her marriage with her husband.
“Some are purple and gold flecked grey
For she was who journeyed through life midway
Whose hands have cherished, whose love has blest
And cradles fair sons on her faithful breast
And serves her household in fruitful pride
And worships the gods at her husband’s side.”
Explanation : The fourth stanza talks about the pride of a woman who has lived girlhood and bridehood and motherhood, and earned a position as a matriarch. It is the phase in her life when her struggles have borne fruit. Therefore, this stanza has the air of royalty and pride etched in it. That is why the colours chosen to describe the bangles for a matriarch are purple and gold. The specks of grey add to the touch of maturity that comes with age.