Jibanananda Das (1899-1954) is wildly popular in West
Bengal and Bangladesh. His poetry is modernist in its
despair and doubt and difficulty, more traditional in
its affiliation to Nature. But never has Nature spoken
with such a sharp sense of the actual. This selection of
50 of Das’s poems is the first in English to follow the
forms of the original Bengali, the loose long line often
employed, the breathless sentence, the jagged structure,
the underpinning rhyme. He is indescribable, except by
an example of his work. Here is the title poem to this
collection. (It follows the original in its lack of
rhyme and in every main particular.) Phalgun is a month,
mid-February to mid-March.
Again in the Phalgun sky the darkness
as if a mysterious sister of light, this
Like that lady who has always loved me
whose face I have not looked upon,
the darkness deepens in the Phalgun sky.
seem to hear a tale of a lost city,
the beauty of an
ash-grey palace wakes in my heart.
On the Indian Ocean shore
or else beyond the
or out beyond the Sea of
not now, but once, a certain city stood,
a palace of the richest
Persian carpets, cashmere shawls,
round-sheer pearls and coral
of the Bering
my lost heart, my dead eyes, my extinct dreams
and you lady –
all was once in that
Orange sunlight was everywhere,
everywhere the deep shade of
and you were there;
for God knows how many centuries I have not seen the
of your face,
nor sought it.
Phalgun’s darkness is here with a story from over the
a pain-filled outline of exquisite domes and
the smell of pears, now gone,
parchments in profusion of lion-hide and
glass panes rainbow-coloured,
curtains coloured like peacocks’ fanned-out tails
of rooms, inner rooms, more rooms,
further rooms –
a timeless stillness and wonder.
Curtains, carpets spread with the blood-red sweat of
Blood-crimson glasses of watermelon
Your naked lonely hand. . .
your naked lonely hand.
The poetry of Jibanananda Das resists generalisation.
It is very much an experience of its own. (The name
means life-delight – jiban-ananda; das means servant.)
Now it is possible to read him in English with the ease
and fluidity of the original. Joe Winter’s Naked Lonely
Hand is published by Meteor Books, in agreement with
Anvil Press Poetry, for sale exclusively in India,
Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and in open market
in all other territories outside the European Community,
U.S.A., Canada and Australia.