Jibanananda Das (l899—1954)
is one of the foremost figures of modern Bengali poetry. His
work combines the substance of international modernism with the
timeless experience of rural Bengal. and both these with the
complex and disturbing patterns of urban life and the political
upheavals of his time.
Jibanananda’s poetry has made a major contribution to Bengali
poetic idiom. This makes his work specially challenging for the
translator. The sixty poems in this volume have been rendered by
a panel of practiced translators by Kendra Sayitya Akedemy These
poems are taken from the book – A certain Sense ( publication of
Sahitya Akedemi pubished in 1998)
I have seen the face of
I have seen the face of Bengal; so the beauty of the earth
I seek no more; waking in the dark, I see
Under the great umbrella-leaf of the fig tree
The daybreak’s magpie-robin: all round, silent massed leaves
Of jam and banyan, hijal, peepul and jackfruit:
Their shadows fall on the thorn-bush, the clump of arrowroot.
So Chand the Merchant long ago, from his honey-bee boat,
Sailing past Champa, saw the same blue shadows float
Of hijal, tamal, banyan—Bengal’s beauty beyond form. So
Behula saw from her raft on the Gangura, when the light Of the
moon’s twelfth dark phase died on the sandbank,
And banyans, golden paddy; heard the shama’s soft song. When she
danced like reft wagtail in Indra’s heavenly halls, Bengal’s
fields, streams, flowers wept at her feet like
Banglar mukh anzi dekhiyachhi from
Rupasi Bangla, composed 1934, published posthumously in 1957.
Translated by Sukanta Chaudhuri.
I shall return to this Bengal
I shall return to this Bengal, to the Dhansiri’s bank:
Perhaps not as a man, but myna or fishing-kite;
Or dawn crow, floating on the mist’s bosom to all ght
In the shade of this jackfruit tree, in this autumn
Or maybe a duck—a young girl’s—bells on my red feet,
Drifting on kalmi-scented waters all the day:
For love of Bengal’s rivers, fields, crops, I’ll come this way
To this sad green shore of Bengal, drenched by
the Jalangi’s waves.
Perhaps you’ll see a glass-fly ride the evening breeze,
Or hear a barn owl call from the silk-cotton tree;
A little child toss rice-grains on the courtyard grass,
Or a boy on the Rupsa’s turgid stream steer a dinghy
With torn white sail—white egrets swimming through red clouds
To their home in the dark. You will find me among their crowd.
Ahar asiba phire: from Rupusi
Bangla, composed 1934, published posthumously in 1957.
Translated by Sukanta Cliaudhuri.
Merged in the sky
Suranjana, don’t go there,
Don’t talk to that young man.
Come back, Suranjana,
On this. night of silvery star-fire;
Come back to this field, this wave;
Come back to my heart;
Don’t go any more with that youth
Further and yet more far.
What do you say to him? To him!
Sky behind the sky— You are like the earth’s clay today:
His love comes to you like grass.
Your heart today is grass.
Wind beyond the wind— Sky beyond the sky.
Akaslina. First published 1940.
Collected in Satti tarar timir. Translated by Indrani Haldar.
We are not yet dead—yet images are born all the time;
On the moonlit pasture of an autumn night, Mohin’s horses graze,
As if from the Stone Age—still roaming, greedy for grass,
On this grotesque dynamo of the earth.
A mob of stable-scent floats down the night wind.
The wistful sound of hay drips from the chaffing machine.
There in the pice-hotel, the icy teacups shake
Like sleepy kittens in the hazy grip of a mangy dog.
In the round stable the serene breath of time
Blows out the paraffin lamp,
As it touches the horses’ Neolithic moonlit silence.
Ghora. First published 1940.
Collected in Satti tarar timir. Translated by Utpal Kumar Basu.
Mounted on high
‘Why don’t you rather write a poem yourself?’ I said,
Smiling palely—the shadowy mass didn’t answer that;
I knew it was no poet-high-mounted verbiage
That upon manuscript, gloss, footnote, ink and pen sat
On the throne: no poet but unageing effusionless
Professor without teeth—ineffectual gum in his eyes;
Month’s pay a thousand rupees—and fifteen hundred picking
Flesh and worms off all the poets who die;
Although those poets longed for hunger, love, fomenting
Fire—on shark-infested waves tossed low and high.
Samarurhci. htst pubhThed 1937. Collected
in Satti tarar tinzir. Translated by Ananda LaI.
Here lies Sarojini—I do not know if she lies here.
For long she lay—then left one day for the far clouds,
The cloud-layer roused by light’s ardour when darkness lifts.
Has Sarojini climbed so far? Without stairs—without wings
like a bird?
Perhaps she is now a geometric wave of the earth’s clay.
‘Not that I know of,’ says geometry’s ghost.
The dryness of saffron light clings to the evening sky
Like the vanished cat, awake with the foolish grin
Of empty wiles.
Saptak. First published 1939. Collected in Satti turar timir.
Translated by Utpal Kumar Basu.
Unscrewing the hydrant the leper licks up water;
Or perhaps the hydrant itself had burst out.
Now the thick of night descends on the city en masse.
A car goes past, coughing like a lout
And shedding restless petrol—as if despite constant caution
Frighteningly into water someone fell,
Three running rickshaws vanished at the last gas lamp
Like magicians at a spell.
And I, having left Phears Lane—in foolhardiness
Walking mile on mile—stopped by
A wall in Bentinck Street—Tiretta Bazar,
In a wind peanut-dry.
Cheeks kissed by the warmth of an intoxicating glow:
Aroma of matchwood, shellac, gunny, skins
Merging with a dynamo’s hum
Keeps taut the bowstring.
Keeps taut the world dead and awake,
Keeps taut the string of the bow of life.
Long since did Maitreyi recite her slokas,
And deathless Attila kingdoms won.
Though in notes her own yet from a window above,
Half awake, there sings a Jewish woman.
Ancestral shades laugh: what is a song
And what gold, paper or petroleum?
Firangee youths go past, dapper and trim.
A black man, grinning, lolls against a pillar,
Cleaning out the briar pipe in his hand
With the faith of an old gorilla.
For him the vast night of the city
Is like the Libyan forest.
Even so, the beasts, all senate—wage slaves,
Out of shame, in fact, are dressed.
Ratri. First published 1940. Collected in Satti tarar timir.
Translated by Bhaswati Chakravorty.
If I were
If I were a wild duck
And you my mate,
On some horizon, by the Jalsiri river
Beside a paddy-field,
In a secluded nest among slender reeds,
Then on this Phalgun night
Watching the moon rise behind the tamarisk branches,
We would leave the smell of lowland waters
And spread our wings through the silver crops of the sky— My
feathers in your wing, along my wing
The pulse of your blood— In the popcornfield of the blue sky
Countless stars like golden flowers— In the green bristly nest
of a raintree forest,
Like a gold egg, the Phalgun moon.
Perhaps the sound of shots fired:
The oblique flow of our flight,
In our wings a piston’s exultation,
In our throats the north wind’s song!
Perhaps the sound of another round of shots:
There would be no fragmented deaths as in our lives today,
No darkness, no failure of our fragmented desires.
If I were a wild duck
And you my mate,
On some horizon, by the Jalsiri ‘river,
Beside a paddy-field.
Ami jadi hatam. First ‘published 1936. Collected in
Banalata Sen Translated by Utpal Kumar Basu.
Kite, alas, golden-winged kite, in this noon of moist clouds,
Cry no more as you fly beside the Dhansiri river!
Your keening brings back her eyes, pale like cane fruit.
Far away she has gone with her beauty, like the earth’s
Why do you call her back again? Alas, who would want to suffer,
digging up sorrow from the heart’s recesses?
Kite, alas, golden-winged kite, in this noon of moist clouds Cry
no more as you fly beside the Dhansiri river!
Hay, chil. First published 1936. Collected in Banalata Sen.
Translated by Bhaswati Chakravorty.
Twenty years after
If I should see her again after twenty years or so!
After twenty years or so!
Beside the paddy-stalks, perhaps,
In the month of Kartik—
When the evening crows return to their nests, the yellow river
Becomes soggy with reeds and rushes and marsh-grass— In the
middle of a field!
Or perhaps the harvest is over,
No longer the bustle of work,
Straw trails from the duck’s nest
Straw trails from the bird’s nest
Night, cold and dew descend on Maniya’s hut!
Our lives have gone by, twenty long years are past.
again, if I should see you on some country path!
Perhaps the moon has appeared
In the middle of the night, behind the thick foliage
Narrow black leaves and branches in its mouth
Of sirish or jam,
Mango or tamarisk,
After twenty years, when you have been forgotten!
Our lives have gone by, twenty long years are past. Suddenly,
again, if you and I should meet!
Then, perhaps, the owl crawls down to the field— And in the dark
alley of babla trees
Between the peepul-windows
Hides itself, who knows where!
Where do the kite’s wings stop
Descending like eyelids, in silence—
Those golden kites—the dew
has taken them prey—
If 1 should find you suddenly in that mist,
after twenty years!
Kurt bachhar pare. First published 1935. Collected in
Sen. Translated by Supriya Chaudhuri.
The world is filled this daybreak
With soft green light, like tender lemon leaves:
The deer tear with their teeth
The green grass, like unripe grapefruit—just as scented!
I too wish to drink in the scent of this grass like green wine,
To strain the body of this grass, rub its eye against mine— My
feathers on grassy wing— To be born, grass within grass.
Descend from the delicious darkness
Of the body of some intimate Grass-Mother.
Ghas. First published 1935. Collected in I3analata Sen.
Translated by Swapan Majumdar.
I have walked earth’s byways
from Ceylon’s coast
to the archipelago of Malaya, in the night’s darkness, moving
I have been a guest at the now hoary court
of Vimvisar and Asoka; in the further dark of the city of
Vidharva. Life’s seas foamed all around. I was weary. And my
sole respite came, when
I spent a couple of hours with Natore’s Banalata Sen.
Her hair dark, like some long gone
her face like Sravasti’s delicate handiwork.
Like some mariner, helm lost, gone astray in far seas, by chance
discovering the greenness
of Spice Islands— I saw her in the dusk.
And raising eyes; like bird’s nests, she asked: ‘Where were you
She asked me then. Natore’s Banalata Sen.
Evening comes at all our day’s end
like the sound of dew. The kite wipes off sunshine’s scent from
When all the earth’s colours are spent, in the fireflies’
brilliant hue, completing an unfinished tale, an old script
finds a new arrangement. All the birds return home, all the
All the day’s transactions end. Just darkness remains and
sitting with me face to face, Banalata Sen.
Translated from Bangla : Ron. D K Banergjee