Theme of Love in Poems of Kamala Das

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By – K. Sheeba (introduction at the end of the paper) Issue. XXVII, April 2017


The research paper has been attempted to explore the theme of love in the poems of Kamala Das. Kamala Das poems reveal her concern for women and genuine love. She looks into a woman’s consciousness and places two aspects before her readers – first, the relationship of man and woman the second the woman’s quest for true love. She writes poetry because of inner compulsion, a need on the part of the poet to grip with her urgent inner problem by externalizing it in poetry. Rather the failure to find emotional fulfilment through love, is central theme of das poetry. Her greatness as a love poem arises from the fact that her love poetry is rooted in her own personal experience. She is called the queen of erotica. She has indeed written extensively on love and passion. Most of her poems deal with the theme of unfulfilled love and yearning for love. She writes of the pains and wounds of love, of the final disillusionment and seldom of fulfilment in love.  Love is a mere dream to be sought for in the world of fantasy and myth. In her poems she expresses her inner pangs caused by marriage. She feels a sense of loss and suffocation for marriage that commodities her, crushes her soul, her spirit, her liberty and her essence as a women. Kamala Das has been regarded as a truly authentic feminine voice of power dealing with ―conflict between passivity and rebellion against the male-oriented universe. Kamala Das poems are pre-eminently poem of love- which includes anguish and pain.

KEY WORDS: Alienation, Male Domination, Contentment, Betrayal and Relationship



Kamala Das was one of the bold contemporary Indian women writers. She has made enormous contribution for the growth of Indian poetry in English. The original name of Kamala Das is Kamala Surayya. She was an Indian English poet and writer and also a leading Malayalam author from Kerala. Das began writing at age fourteen and had her first poem was published by P.E.N. India. She has authored many autobiographical works and novel, several well- received collections of poetry in English, numerous volumes of short stories. She was one of the first Indian writers to explore sexual themes in her work. She has written many collections of poems such as “Summer in Calcutta”, “The Old Playhouse and other Poems”, “The Descendants”, Etc. through her poems she has tried to emphasize the feminine identity and personal identity in a male dominated society. Her poems are revolt, and the revolt is the outcome of all her dissatisfaction and psychological traumas. The major theme of most of her poems are the quest for love and her failure to find fulfilment of love in life.

            Kamala Das is a confessional poet who displays feminist ethos in her poems. Her poems are the outcome of her intensely felt personal experience which she expresses honestly and with great conviction. According to Kamala Das, childhood and memory are the chief source of her poetry. She has often compared with such modern confessional poets as Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. Das speaks of her failure in love or need for love. She expresses her experiences and passions with an openness and frankness unusual in the Indian context.

            The note of profound anguish in Das’s poetry issues from her experience of alienation from early childhood. Her autobiography My Story reveals that she is alienated from her father of patriarchy and from her mother who always lays on bed and writes poems. The parents did not spend time with them. She experiences alienation from teachers and classmates in school. She depicts herself and her brother as a children of loveless parents in her autobiography. This painful sense of alienation makes her write sad poems at very young age about dolls and their lost heads.

             Kamala Das poetry is based on personal expedience. My Grandmother’s House Poem is a poem based on personal expedience.

“There is house now far away where once

  I received love …. That woman died,

  The house withdrew into silence, snakes moved

  Among books, I was too young

  To read, and my blood turned cold like the moon.”

                                                              (My Grandmother’s House 1to 5)

The imagery in My Grandmother’s House is personal and brings out the importance of unconditional love from the one that she loves. It is the memory of the poet’s happy childhood days, when her grandmother showered her with love and affection in her ancestral home. She received love from her grandmother without giving anything in return. It is the type of love which has no bounds and is unchanging. However, the love that she received vanished along with her grandmother’s last breath.

                               “Behind my bed room door like a brooding

                                                         Dog… you cannot believe, darling,

                                                         Can you, that I lived in such a house and

                                                         Was proud, and loved… I who have lost

                                                          My way and beg now at strangers’ doors to

                                                         Receive love, at least in small change?” (11 to 16)

 Das very beautifully articulates in her poem the need for love by comparing her relationship with her grandmother to her relationship with her husband. This poem expresses lack of love. The poem brings about her desire for love and her failure to achieve love. On a personal level her poetry conveys her need for love from her better half and on a larger level it portrays the dominance of the male society on the female society. When she was child she received love from her grandmother, after her death she expects love from someone. After her marriage, she expects true love from her husband but she failed in receiving love from her husband. So this poem expresses two main themes. One is male dominance and second one is true love.

In Love, she expresses her happiness and contentment in love. She gives us brief account of sexual experience which created a kind of dilemma for her. She expresses her difficulty in relating to a man who had made love to her in a rough manner. She describes that in his relationship with her, there had been no room, no excuse, and no need for love, and that every embrace between them had been like a finished jigsaw which is complicated.

                                                             “Until I found you,

               I wrote verse, drew pictures,

                                                               For walks…

                                                               Now that I love you,

            Curled like an old monger

                                                               My life lies, content,

                                                               In you…..”

 The poem is, clearly without any pricks, without any tensions.

             The poem ‘Freaks’ deals with the poets and her lover‘s abnormal sexual tendencies. Poet is merely talking. He is blackened by excessive exposure to the sun. His cheeks are sun- stained. They are darkened and shrivelled by the heat of the sun. He has lost number of teeth. So his mouth looks like a gloomy cave. The light that gleams in this dark cave is shed by his few gleaming teeth that are hanging loose like stalactite. They try to concentrate on love- making. But their mind keeps sliding away from it.

                                                       “Are wild to race towards love

                                                        But, they only wander, tripping

                                                        Idly over puddles of

                                                        Desire … can this man with

                                                        Nimble finger- tips unleash.” (6 -10)

            Their minds are thinking of shallow desires which are like puddles. His fingers which are stroking her things are kindling only skin- deep desires, not deeps passion. They have lived together so long but have fallen short of love- making.

                                                       “And have failed in love? The heart

                                                         An empty cistern, waiting

                                                         Through long hours, fills itself

                                                         With coiling snakes of silence.” (14 – 17)

            Their hearts are like empty tanks, which are filled with silence and in which snakes are of sexual desire are coiling. They are silently thinking of sex. Their thoughts do not issue in action. The wife confesses that she is abnormal person. So she has become frigid. In order to maintain an air of normalcy she pretends to be highly interested in sex.

            Das describes a sexual experience and the feeling which accompanied it.  She lays bed with a man. She did experience the gratification of her sexual desire at the time but she felt disappointment by the lack of any love or affection for her in his heart. This poem clearly shows her frankness in dealing with the subject of sex. She is so frank here as to call herself a freak and to confess that subject of sex.

In the poem Winter, she says the sense of physical warmth and well – being is placed against the bitter cold of winter winds. In Relationship she identifies her with physical desire. The sterile sting of rejection and deception is juxtaposed with ‘my body’s wisdom’ which tells that the poet would find rest and peace in her lover’s arms though he might betray her. Here love is older than the lover by myriad saddened centuries. Her desire makes the lover beautiful. It originates in the primordial instincts of the lovers.

In The Testing of the Sirens, the poet wakes from a night of love and lust into a morning heavy with a sense of loneliness. A man with a pock–marked face and friendly smile arrives and takes her for a drive. Last night was a love of filthy snob and now that of a pock-marked monster with a smile and a camera.

“. . . . Out in the street, we heard

  The sirens go, and I paused in talk to

  Weave their wail with the sound of his mirthless

   Laughter…” (17-20)

The melancholy wailing of the sirens concedes with the mirthless laughter of the new lover. The siren’s sound becomes a symbol for the inner agony of the poet. It is the doleful cry of disillusioned love. Her loyalty to both the lovers is only a momentary excitement. She is not involved.

The poem is a part of that endless search for an eternal and perfect lover, which is one of the central themes in all Kamala Das’s poetry. Here love becomes an endless and painful experiment for possession. The evasiveness of real love and the cruelty of lust posing as love are brought out in the two images of the pregnant girl baring her dusky breasts and the crows bickering over a piece of lizard meat.

Das received true love from her grandmother when her childhood but after her grandmother died she is in lack of love. Her poems are lack of sex and love in based on her life. So she expresses her feeling in all her poems. All her poems are based on her own experiences

The Descendants reveals the thematic and symbolic structure of a poetic consciousness molded by meditation over death and physical decay, ugliness of the body and the mind and the fallibility of human emotions .The poems in Summer in Calcutta are toddling experiments where as in The Descendants they are bolder in conception and stable in expression. The title-piece The Descendants begins in sinning and ends in the impossibility of redemption. In The Descendants, punishment descends from sin and damnation descends from punishment. Through imagery, the poetess presents their love process.

The central imagery in The Descendants is that of the lovers nailed to the bed, which is like a cross. The same image is repeated in The Proud One to suggest the agony of a jilted lover and betrayed husband. Love and power are juxtaposed and the pain of disillusionment is brought home by the imagery.

The theme of lust is apotheosized in Convicts a poem in which sensual love is portrayed in terms of physical labor and heat. The convicts are the lovers and their lust is universal. The comparison of the lovers with toys dead children leave behind implies the fatal nature of lust. The lovers have lost their separate genders in the heat and heaviness of lust. The effacement of individual personalities in the clout of lust takes the perceptibly hard shape of a metaphysical conceit.

           “That was the only kind of love,

            This hacking at each other’s parts

            Like convicts hacking, breaking clods

            At noon…”

A number of poems in ‘The Descendants’ deal with the theme of love affairs resulting in uselessness. ‘The Looking Glass’ functions as a comic-relief in the same intensity as it functions in a way to mock at the cruelty of man towards his counterpart. It gives unwonted pleasure to man to think ill and negative about his wife. He is happy to see his physical strength and takes for granted that he also leads intellectually. In a male dominated world, it depends on woman to satisfy the male ego by admiring his male prowess by showing her own feminine weakness. Her soft, lovely feminine self serves two duties, first to excite his passion and – second to gratify his vanity as a superior male. Her feminine self also learns how to get a man to satisfy her lust as in “The Looking Glass”

“Getting a man to love you is easy

    Only be honest about your wants as

                     Woman. Stand nude before the glass with him

                      So that he sees himself the stronger one” (1-4)

Her upbringing by careless parents, marriage to an egoistic and vainglorious man, disappointment in love, and illicit love -affairs with other men in order to remove her boredom and anxiety, rendered her vision tragic. She believes that marriage means endless sacrifices, household chores, loss of freedom and frustration. This is clearly depicted by Das in “The Old Playhouse”:

   “You planned to tame a swallow, to hold her

                              In the long summer of your love so that she would forget

   Not the raw seasons alone, and the homes left behind, but

                              Also her nature, the urge to fly, and the endless

                                       Pathways of the sky” (1-5)

 In this poem she says that her life is like a gloomy playhouse. The poet says that her husband treat her cruelly. Poem is a vehement protest against the male domination and superiority which completely belittles a woman’s personality. As an expression of feminine sensibility and protest against male supremacy

All of us have an intense desire to be loved and nurtured, which is considered to be one the most basic fundamental needs. Das deprived of this love to such an extent that she “begs strangers” to give her love ‘at least in small change’. The poem“The Old Playhouse” explains about her unfulfilled love.

            In her poem, “The Losing Battle”, she explains how she searches for the ideal lover in her relationship with various men. She is fully convinced that the ideal love is something which cannot be achieved through the physical contacts with a man. Das makes similar attempt at the men suggesting that men are also morally corrupt and they can be easily lured into trap.

                                                       “… Men are worthless, to trap them use

                                                        The cheapest bait of all, but never love,

                                                        Which in a woman must mean tears and a

                                                         Silence in the blood. (3 to 6)

            Her Sexual affairs do not provide the comfort or the contentment she is aspiring. We can easily observe that throughout her life, the poem seem to be searching for the ultimate lover, the unknown, whom would be with her the ultimate bliss, but by the time she fails again in accomplishing her goal.

            Kamala das universalizes the suffering and seeks freedom and love. The poem become a statement on gender differences and a move to transcend the restrictions imposed on a woman by seeking individual freedom, love that allows the body to come to terms with its own needs and a self that is allowed to celebrate love’s true glory. This is the most famous poem in confessional mode.

            “The Dance of the Eunuchs” is one of the most remarkable poems of kamala das. In the poem, she finds an objective correlative in the dance of eunuchs to represent the theme of suppressed desire within. Dancing eunuchs are familiar sight in India but in Das poem their whirling movement is contrasted with inner vacuity and so they are mere convulsions.

            Das herself suffered from such an emotional vacuity and so the dance of eunuch is symbolic of her inner life. The poem has received considerable critical attention as it strikes the key notes of Das poetry as a whole.

                                                       “It was hot, so hot, before the eunuchs came

                                                         To dance, wide skirts going round going, cymbals

                                                         Richly clashing and anklets jingling, jingling

                                                         The dance oh! They danced till they bled….”

                                                                                     (The Dance of the Eunuchs 1-4)

The search for love and alienation is central to the poetry of Kamala Das. Her poems are all self-experienced poems. Das presents herself as being able to use writing as a way to communicate her own confessional need. She writes chiefly of love, its betrayal, and the consequent anguish. Indian reader responded sympathetically to her guiltiness and frankness with regard to the sexual matters. Her poems are about the quest for true love that has ended in frustration and discontentment. Her poetry reflects her own self with a powerful force of protest against the male-dominated society. Her poems show her failure in love and the voice of the victimized women of the world. According to her love must lead to self-realization and self-growth. It is called pure love when it satisfies her romantic aspiration and emotional need.



Works Cited

  • Das, Kamala. My Story. New Delhi: Harper Collins Publisher, 2004. Print. “Das, Kamala. Poems.”
  • Narasimhaiah, C. D. An Anthology of Commonwealth Poetry. New Delhi: Macmillan, 2004. Print
  • A feminist reading of Kamala Das’s poetry. Prof. K. V. Dominic. Web.20 Mar. 2000.
  • Confessional mode in poetry of Kamala Das. Web. 25 Aug. 2013.



Introduction to the Author:

K Sheeba is doing her post graduation in English Literature from Govindammal Aditanar College for Women Tiruchendur.


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