The Hindu Bard: In Review
January's classic pick is a blissful start to our reading challenge
Not being a natural poetry reader, I started the Classics Reading Challenge with a degree of apprehension, as our January title is the small but mighty Hindu Bard, a collection of poems by Dorothy Bonarjee. After cracking the spine, I quickly discovered that my reservations were unwarranted.
Forewords provided by Mohini Gupta and Andrew Whitehead provided a fascinating insight to Bonarjee, an Indian woman and feminist who studied in Aberystwyth before moving to France. Mohini Gupta’s connection with Bonarjee—being herself and Indian woman who also studied in Aberystwyth—gave her foreword a personal touch that brought heart and feeling to Bonarjee’s story. Andrew Whitehead’s foreword followed, highlighting a poignant quote from The Times India which resonated with me as a reader in Wales: “If India had given birth to a poet, Wales had educated her and given her an opportunity to develop her poetic instincts.”
Bonarjee started her studies in Aberystwyth just before the First World War. At this time Aberystwyth University was unusual in that it had nearly as many female students as male, although students of colour were less common. Bonrjee seemed to thrive in Wales and notable won the college Eisteddfod chair in 1914 for her ode to Owain Lawgoch (of which only a fraction has survived). An iconic character for Aberystwyth history, Bonarjee eventually eloped to France to marry a painter (who we believe is responsible for the portrait of her on the front cover) and only returned to the Welsh coast one final time in 1970. Her original collection is now at the National Library of Wales.
Bonarjee’s prose were a sudden and breathtaking surprise. My particular favourites were The Grave in the Woodland and the punchy You Once Said I Was Lucky. Her words are uplifting, thoughtful and beautiful. There is a sadness to some of her poems and a vibrant passion to others. She connects the reader to nature and the landscape with elements of ethereal unworldliness. As I read, I found myself captivated and felt that, although I knew Bonarjee’s story, it wasn’t until I’d finished this collection that I really understood her and her inspirational story.
The Hindu Bard is the January’s pick for Honno’s Classic Reading challenge. This is an easy but rewarding read that will delight poetry enthusiasts and surprise general readers.
Lynzie Fitzpatrick – January 2024
[Lynzie Fitzpatrick, Honno’s Business Manager, is one of the team embarking on the Classics Reading Challenge this year. Keep an eye on our website and social media for more updates and reviews of our Welsh Women’s Classics]