Selected Bengali Poetry

Presented by KAURAB


An introduction to the poetry of Jibanananda Das
Dec, 2011

Aryanil Mukherjee

Jibanananda Das (1899-1954), according to most critics, scholars and lovers of Bengali poetry, is the greatest Bengali poet after Rabindranath Tagore and by all means, the truest modernist vanguard of Indian poetry. Listless in his lifestyle, unimpressive in his ways, constantly plagued by the mainstream literary community and further distressed by marital feud, Jibanananda Das lived a life of pessimism, misfortune, neglect and gloom especially after he moved to Calcutta from Barishal where he was born and brought up.

Rather abjectly he might have belonged with the group of avant-garde poets (led by the younger Buddhadeva Bose)who could be called the post-Tagore modernists (or adhunik)—a Bengali modernism which reflected a shift away from Tagore’s idealism toward more urban, social and political themes, it brought more stones hurled than extolment until later, posthumously.

Growing up within the heart of the green Bengal plains, Jibanananda had been deeply affected by its flora, fauna , natural history and phenomena - all of which took up an important place in his poetry. His book rUpasee baanglaa (Bengal, the beautiful) is a landmark in Indian Nature Poetry and remains until today one of the best loved poetry books in Bengal. A Master of Arts in English Literature from Calcutta University, Jibanananda Das taught in a city college during his Calcutta years. He published six volumes of poetry between 1926 and 1954. Tagore had had a glimpse of his early work and in an earnest letter to the poet had described it reticently and with some degree of insouciance as "imagist".

Commenting on his own work, Jibanananda once wrote, "My work has been described as difficult, solitary, withdrawn. I have been labeled variously : as a nature poet, a socially and historically conscious one, even as an unconscious artist. I have been called a Symbolist, Surrealist and WhatNot! These are all partially correct, I suppose, but they do not capture the entire fabric."

In October of 1954, Jibanananda was accidentally run over by a streetcar on Rashbehari Avenue, very close to where he lived. He succumbed to the severe injuries three days later. The Indian Sahitya Academy [Academy of Literature] posthumously presented him with the highest literary honor for his shreshhTha kabitaa (Selected Poems).

Poems :

Banalata Sen

For thousands of years I roamed the paths of this earth,
From waters round Ceylon in dead of night to Malayan seas.
Much have I wandered. I was there in the grey world of Asoka
And Bimbisara, pressed on through darkness to the city of Vidarbha.
I am a weary heart surrounded by life's frothy ocean.
To me she gave a moment's peace -- Banalata Sen from Natore.

Her hair was like an ancient darkling night in Vidisa,
Her face, the craftsmanship of Sravasti. As the helmsman,
His rudder broken, far out upon the sea adrift,
Sees the grass-green land of a cinnamon isle, just so
Through darkness I saw her. Said she, "Where have you been so long?"
And raised her bird's nest-like eyes -- Banalata Sen from Natore.

At day's end, like hush of dew
Comes evening. A hawk wipes the scent of sunlight fom its wings.
When earth's colors fade and some pale design is sketched,
Then glimmering fireflies paint in the story.
All birds come home, all rivers, all of this life's tasks finished.
Only darkness remains, as I sit there face to face with Banalata Sen.

Translated by Clinton. B. Seely


Again and again through the day
I meet a cat.
In the tree's shade, in the sun, in the crowding brown leaves.
After the success of a few fish bones
Or inside a skeleton of white earth
I find it, as absorbed in the purring
Of its heart as a bee.
Still it sharpens its claws on the gulmohar tree
And follows the sun all day long.

Now I see it and then it is gone,
Losing itself somewhere.
On the autumn evening I have watched it play,
Stroking the soft body of the saffron sun
With a white paw. Then it caught
The darkness in paws like small balls
And scattered it all over the earth.

Translated by Lila Ray


We haven't died till now - yet new scenes come continually to sight;
Maheen's horses keep chewing grass in the late autumn moonlight;
As if horses from some Paleolithic age - lured
Into grazing in a dreadful dynamo of a world.

The stink from the stable drifts in with the onrushing night breeze;
The doleful sound of rustling straw rubs onto steel machines;
The few empty teacups are like kittens - asleep - under the slack watch of mangy dogs

Chilled, you make for the cheap restaurant near by,
The placid puff of time blows out the paraffin lamp of the stable
Touching the Neolithic still moonlight of these horses.

Translated by Fakrul Alam

The Corpse

Where the silvery moonlight moistens in the reeds,
Where swarms of mosquitoes make their homes;
Where gold fish snap these blue mosquitoes
In silence, expectantly;
Where in a corner of the world, all alone,
The river takes on the tones of the silent fish;
Where the river, from its bed of reeds and tall grasses
Only has eyes for the reddening evening sky;
In the darkness of a starlit night,
Like a woman shaking a huge knot of blue hair,
Some other river stirs; but this is a river
Of multi-colored clouds and yellow moonlight;
Look up and you will see all that is dark and light disperse here;
Red blue fish clouds - pale blue moonlight
Take over; this is where MrinalinI Ghoshal's corpse
Will float forever; in blue red silvery silence.
A review of his English language anthology

Translated by Fakrul Alam

A Strange Darkness

A strange darkness has descended upon this earth
Its the blind who see the most today
The world stalls without the counsel
of those hearts rid of love - grace - hearts that compassion won't agitate,

And upon the hearts of those that
still believe in men, in the
truth and law of piety, in its art and quest
hyenas and vultures feast.

Translated by Aryanil Mukherjee

Naked Lonely Hand

Darkness once again thickens throughout the sky:
This darkness, like light's mysterious sister.
She who has loved me always,
Whose face I have yet to see,
Like that woman
Is this darkness, deepening, closing in upon a February sky.

A certain vanished city comes to mind,
In my heart wake outlines of some gray city palace.

On shores of the Indian ocean
or the Mediterranean
or the banks of the Sea of Tyre,
Not today, but once there was a city,
And a palace —
A palace lavishly furnished:
Persian carpets, Kashmiri shawls, flawless pearls
and coral from waters round Bahrain.
My lost heart, dead eyes, faded dream desires
And you, woman —
All these once filled that world.

There was orange sunlight,
Cockatoos and pigeons,
Dense, shady mahogany foliage.
There was orange sunlight,
Much orange-colored sunlight,
And you were there.
For how many hundreds of centuries I have not seen the beauty of your face,
Have not searched.
The February darkness brings with it this tale of a seashore,
Sorrowful lines of fantasy domes and arches,
Fragrance of invisible pears,
Countless deer and lion parchments, graying,
Stained glass rainbows rippling over drapes —
A fleeting glow from
Room through anteroom to further inner room.
Momentary awe and wonder.

Sweat of ruddy sun, smeared on curtains, carpets,
Watermelon wine in red glasses!
Your naked lonely hand

Your naked lonely hand.

Anonymous translation

The Hunt

Sky, the soft blue of grasshopper's belly.
Guava and custard apple trees all around, green as parrot feathers.
A single star lingers in the sky
Like the most twilight-intoxicated girl in some village bridal chamber
or that pearl from her bosom the Egyptian dipped into my glass of
Nile-blue wine
one night some thousands of years ago —
Just so, in the sky shines a single star.

To warm their bodies through the cold night, up-country menials kept
a fire going
In the field-red fire like a cockscomb blossom,
Still burning, contorting dry aswattha leaves.

Its color in the light of the sun is no longer like vermilion
But has become like wan desires of a sickly salik bird's heart.
In the morning's light both sky and surrounding dewy forest sparkle
like iridescent peacock wings.

All night long a sleek brown buck, bounding from sundari through arjun forests
In starless, mahogany darkness, avoids the cheetah's grasp.
He had been waiting for this dawn.
Down he came in its glow,
Ripping, munching fragrant grass, green as green grapefruit.
Down he came to the river's stinging, tingling ripples,
To instill his sleepless, weary, bewildered body with the current's drive,
To feel a thrill like that of dawn
bursting through the cold and wizened womb of darkness
To wake like gold sun-spears beneath this blue and
Dazzle doe after doe with beauty, boldness, desire.
A strange sound.

The river's water red like macaka flower petals.
Again the fire crackled-red venison served warm.
Many an old dew-dampened yarn, while seated on a bed of grass
beneath the stars.
Cigarette smoke.
Several human heads, hair neatly parted.
Guns here and there. Icy, calm, guiltless sleep.

Anonymous translation

In the Camp

Here on the edge of the forest I pitched camp.
All night long in pleasant southern breezes
By the moon's light
I listen to the call of a doe in heat.
To whom is she calling?

Somewhere the deer are hunted tonight.
Hunters entered the forest today.
I too seem to catch their scent,
As I lie here upon my bed
Not drowsy at all
In this spring night.

Forest wonder everywhere,
An April breeze,
Like the taste of moonlight.
A doe in heat calls all night long.
Somewhere deep in the forest — beyond the reach of moonbeams —
All stags hear her sounds.
They sense her presence,
Come toward her.
Now, in this night of wonder
Their time for love arrives.
That sister of their hearts
In moonlight calls them from forest cover-
To quench their thirst-to smell-to savor!
As if this night's forest were free of tigers!
No clear fear fills those stags' breasts tonight,
Not even the shadow of uncertainty.
There is only thirst,
Perhaps wonder wakes in the cheetah's breast as well
at the beauty of that doe's face.
Lust-longing-love-desire-dreams burst forth
In this springtide night.
Here is my nocturne.

One by one deer come from the wooded deep,
Leaving behind all water's sounds in search of another assurance.
Forgetting tooth and claw, they approach their sister there
Beneath the sundari, bathed in moonlight.
As man draws near his salty woman, lured by scent, so come those deer.
I sense them —
The sound of their many hooves.
In moonlight calls that doe in heat.
I can no longer sleep.
As I lie here
I hear gunshots.
Again I hear the sounding guns.
The doe in heat calls once more in the light of the moon.
As I lie fallen here alone
A weariness wells within my heart
While I listen to the sound of guns
And hear that doe's call.

Tomorrow she will return.
In the morning, by daylight, she can be seen.
Nearby lie her dead lovers.
Men have taught her all this.

I shall smell venison upon my dinner dish.
.. . Has not the eating of flesh ceased?
... But why should it?
Why must I be pained to think of these deer-
Am I not like them?
on some spring night
on one of life's wondrous nights
Did not someone come into the moonlight, call me too,
in the pleasant southern breezes
Like that doe in heat?
My heart, a stag,
Forgetting the violence of this world,
All caution cast to the winds-all fear of the cheetah's eyes —
Had not it yearned to possess you?
When, like those dead deer, the love in my heart
Lay caked with blood and dust
Did not you, like this doe, live on
Through life's wondrous night
one spring night?

You too had learned from someone!
And we lie here, our flesh like that of dead animals.
All come, then fall in the face of separation — separation and death —
Like those slain deer.
By living-loving-longing for love, we are hurt, we hate and die,
Do we not?

I hear the report of a double-barreled gun.
That doe in heat calls on.
No sleep comes to this heart of mine
As I lie here, alone.
Yet one must silently forget the thunder of those guns.
Night speaks of other things upon camp beds.
They by whose barrels deer perished tonight,
Who relished flesh and bone of deer upon their dinner plates,
They too are like you.
Their hearts too wither there in sleeping bags.
Thinking-just thinking.

This pain, this love resides everywhere,
In the locust, the worm, in the breast of man,
In all the lives of us all.
Like those slain deer in spring's moonlight
Are we all.

Anonymous translation


Into the half light and shadow I go. Within my head
Not a dream, but some sensation is at work.
Not a dream, not peace, not love,
Inside my heart a sensation is born.
I cannot escape it
For it places its hand in mine,
And all else pales to insignificance-futile so it seems.
All thought, an eternity of prayer,
Seems empty.

Who can go on like the simple folk?
Who can pause in this half light and darkness
Like the simple people? Who can speak
Like them, anymore? Who can know
For certain anymore? — Who seeks to understand
The carnal savors anymore? — Who knows the joys
of life again, like everyman?
And sows seeds like everyman anymore?
Where is that relish? And who, hungry for harvest,
Has smeared himself with the scent of earth,
Has anointed himself with the scent of water,
Has gazed toward light with rapt attention,
Has gained a peasant heart,
Who would any longer remain awake upon his earth?
Not a dream-not peace-but some sensation is at work
Within my head.

When I walk along the beach, or cross from shore to shore
I try to ignore it.
I seize it as I would a dead man's skull
And wish to smash it on the ground. Yet it spins like a living head
All around my head,
All about my eyes,
All about my chest.
I move, it too comes along with me.
I stop —
It too comes to a halt.

As I take my place among other beings
Am I becoming estranged and alone
Because of my mannerisms?
Is there just an optical illusion?
Are there only obstacles in my path?

Those who were born to this world
As children,
Those who spent their time
Giving birth to children,
or those who must give birth to children
Today, or those who come to the sown fields of this world,
For to give birth — to give birth —
Is not my heart
Like theirs, their heart and head? Is not their mind
Like my mind?
Then why am I so alone?
Yet I am all alone.
Did I not raise my hand to see it hold a peasant's plough?
Have I not drawn water in a pail?
Have I not often gone with sickle to the fields?
How many wharfs and rivers have I been to
Like those who fish?
Algae from a pond, the smell of fish
Engulfed my body.
— All these tastes,
— All these I've had. My life has flowed
Like unchecked winds.
My mind slept as I lay beneath the stars
one day.
All these desires
I knew once-unchecked-unbounded.
Then I left them all behind.
I have looked upon woman with love.
I have looked upon woman with apathy.
I have looked upon woman with hate.

She has loved me,
And come near.
She has paid no heed to me.
She has despised me and gone away when I called her time and again,
Loving her.
Yet it was actually practiced one day-this love.
I paid no attention to her words of contempt,
No attention to the wrath of her hate,
And went my own way. I have forgotten
That star-the sinister influence of which
Blocked my path of love over and over again.
Still, this love-this dust and mud.

Within my head
Not a dream, not love, but some sensation is at work.
I leave all gods behind
And come close to my heart-
I speak to this heart.
Why does it mumble to itself alone like churning waters?
Is it never weary? Does it never have a moment's peace?
Will it never ever sleep? Will it not enjoy just
Resting calmly? or not know the joy
of gazing at the face of man?
of gazing at the face of woman?
of gazing at children's faces?

This sensation — only this desire —
What does it gain, immense — profound?
Does it not wish to leave the beaten paths
And seek the starry span of the sky? Has it vowed
To look upon that man's face?
To look upon that woman's face?
To look upon those children's faces?
Those sickly shadows under eyes,
The ears that cannot hear,
The hunchback-a goiter that arose upon the flesh,
A spoiled cucumber-chancred pumpkin,
All that is within man's heart
— All that.

Anonymous translation

Windy Night

Last night was thick with wind, a time of countless stars.
All night long, a vast wind played within my mosquito net.
At times that net swelled like a monsoon sea's belly.
Tearing loose from the bed every once in a while
It would try to fly to the stars.
Now and then it seemed to me — perhaps while half asleep —
that there was no mosquito net over my head at all,
As it soared like a white heron upon a sea of blue wind, skirting the
hip of the star Swati!
Last night was such a marvelous night.

All the dead stars awoke last night —
there wasn't the least little space in the sky.
I saw the gray faces of all the world's beloved dead in those stars.
In the dark of night, in aswattha treetops, those stars glittered like a
lusty hawk's dewy eyes.
The huge sky gleamed in the moonlit night like a shining cheetah stole
upon the shoulders of Babylon's queen.
Last night was such an amazing night.

Those stars in the bosom of the sky that died thousands of years ago,
They, too, brought with them through the window last night
countless dead skies.
Those stunning women I saw die in Assyria, Egypt, Vidisa,
Seemed last night to stand shoulder to shoulder, javelin in hand,
in far-off mist and fog at the sky's horizon:
To trample death under foot?
To proclaim full victory for life?
To excite the sullen, frightful stupor of love?
I was overwhelmed — overcome,
As though torn by last night's compelling blue tyranny.
on the sky's endless, expansive wings
The earth, like some insect, was swept away last night.
From the sky's bosom came the lofty winds
Sighing through my window,
Like so very many zebras of a verdant land, startled by the lion's roar.

My heart filled with the scent of a vast green grassy veldt,
With horizon-flooding blazing sunlight scent,
With the restless, massive, vibrant, woolly outburst of darkness,
Like growls of an aroused tigress,
With life's untamable blue intoxication!

My heart tore free from the earth and flew,
Flew up like a drunken balloon into an ocean of blue wind,
To the mast of some distant constellation, scattering stars as it flapped
away like some mischievous vulture.

Anonymous translation

Before Death

We who have walked deserted stubble fields on a December evening,
Who have seen over the field's edge a soft river woman scattering
Her fog flowers-they all are like some village girls of old —
We who have seen in darkness the akanda tree, the Dhundul plant
Filled with fireflies, the moon standing quietly at the head of
An already harvested field-she has no yearning for that harvest;

We who have lived in the darkness of a long winter's night, who have
Heard wings flutter on a thatched roof in captivating night —
The smell of an ancient owl, now lost again in the darkness!
Who have understood the beauty of a winter's night-wings buoyed up over
Fields brimming with deep joy, herons calling from aswattha tree limbs;
We who have understood all this secret magic of life;

We who have seen wild geese escape injury from a hunter's bullet
And fly away into the horizon's gentle blue moonlight;
We who have placed a loving hand upon the sheaves of paddy;
Like the evening crows, we who returned home full of desire;
Smell of a baby's breath, grass, sunlight, a kingfisher, stars, sky —
We who were aware of these as we came and went throughout the year;

Who have seen green leaves turn yellow in the November darkness,
Light and bulabuli birds frolicking in the windows of a cashew tree,
A mouse rubbing chaff over his silklike fur on a wintry night,
Waves forming in gray odors of rice and pouring down twice daily
Upon eyes of lonely fish, a duck in evening's darkness on the bank of a pond
Catching scent of sleep-the touch of a womanly hand carries him off

A golden hawk calling from the window of a minaretlike cloud,
Beneath a wicker vine a sparrow's eggs appearing so hard,
A river ever smearing its banks with fragrance of soft water,
Roof thatching casting shadows in deep night upon a moonlit courtyard,
Smell of crickets in the green wind of April's outlying fields,
Thick juice oozing with heavy desire into bluish custard apples' breasts;

We who have seen the red fruit fallen beneath the thick banyan,
The crowds of deserted fields seeing their faces in the river,
However blue the skies, yet finding one that is even bluer;
Who upon the paths have seen soft eyes casting their glow on the earth;
We who have seen evening each day flow over rows of betel nut trees,
The dawn appear every day simple and green like a sheaf of paddy;

We who have understood after many a day, month, season gone by
That daughter of the earth who came near and in the darkness spoke of
Rivers; we who have understood there is another light within
The fields, ghats, paths: its afternoon grayness is in our bodies —
As we let go our seeing hands, that light remains constant:
Kankabati of the earth floats there and attains a body of pale incense.

Before death what more do we wish to understand? Do I not know that
The face of gray death awakes like a wall at the head of all prostrate
Reddened desires. Once there was a dream in this world — there was gold
That attained silent peace, as though by some magician's need.
What more do we wish to understand? Haven't we heard the call of wings
As the sun faded? Haven't we seen the crow fly off into fields of fog!

Anonymous translation

The Story of the Field

1- The Moon in the Field

The moon in the field keeps staring
at my face - to right and left
barren land, straw, stubble, creviced earth,
water of dew.
The moon in the field, sharp-curved like the sickle,
looks on; thus it has stared through so many
nights - there is no counting them.
The moon in the field says:
"Beneath the sky
plowmarks on soil
are erased - harvest time
came, is long gone!
The crop already is in - so why do you
still stand
all alone! To right and left
straw-stubble, barren land, creviced earth,
the water of dew!"
I say to the moon:
"A plentiful crop was harvested
and so much grain fell!
You have aged like this old woman Earth!
The mark of plow on soil
has been erased so often - so many harvests
came, have long gone.
The crop is already in - so why do you
still stand
all alone! To right and left
barren land, straw-stubble, creviced earth,
the water of dew!"

3 - Twenty-five Years Later

The last time I met her in the field
I said: "At this time one day
Come again - if you wish to come!-
Twenty-five years from now."
With these words I returned home.
How often since then moon and stars
Died above the fields, mice and owls
Came and went, searching the paddy fields
In the moonlight. How often
To right and left, many people closed their eyes
And slept - I stayed awake,
I alone -
The stars raced through the sky.
Time moves even faster-
Still, twenty-five years have not ended.

Then one day
Yellow leaves again
Fill the field;
Mist is set afloat
On leaves, on dry stalks
Everywhere - the swallow's broken nest
Is wet with dew; on the road
Are shattered birds' eggs, cold and stiff.

On vines, on leaves,
Are cucumber blossoms, a few ruined white
The torn spider-web, the withered spider.
In the bright moonlight night the roadway is marked
A few stars can be seen
In the frosty sky - mice and owls
Wander from field to field;
Gleaning still satisfy their thirst-
When did twenty-five years pass by!

4 - Moon of the November Field

Longing wakens in the heart -
This mountainous cloud
Brings you with it
In midnight or morning sky.
Those whom the dead earth discarded by night are
now alone.
Tattered white clouds have gone fearfully
Like frightened boys. For a long time
The stars have burned in the sky.
Then, moon, you came to the head of the field;
That which is now impossible on earth,
Which happened once, then, uncontrolled,
The seeded plot was tilled,
The cultivators left.
This is the tale of their fields: if the story is ended
Much still remains which
You know - does this world know it, too?


The first harvest has been brought home-
nothing but dew water
falls on the autumn field ;
with breath of a November river
frost comes
to bamboo leaves, dead grass, stars in the sky.
The moon pours a fountain of ice!
In paddy field, in meadow,
Smoke has settled,
a keen-edged fog
The farmer has gone home;
this world drowses-
still I see that
someone's eyes do not desire
this sleep!
Seated in the crowd of yellow leaves,
rubbing feathers in the dew,
covering the branch with the shadow of wings
staring at the picture of sleep and sleepers
with the moon and stars of the field
that bird
is awake alone in the November night.
Now I recall
another day when the first harvest
was brought home-
the music of this dew fell upon the fields-
an October or November midnight.
Seated in the crowd of yellow leaves,
rubbing feathers against the dew,
covering the branch with the shadow of wings,
staring at the picture of sleep and sleepers
with the moon and stars of the field
this bird
was awake in the November night.
That night, too, the river's breath
was frosted,
the bamboo leaves, dead grass, stars in the sky.
The moon poured a fountain of ice!
In paddy field, in meadow,
smoke had settled,
a keen-edged fog.
The farmer has gone home;
this world drowses-
still I see that
someone's eyes do not desire
this sleep !

Translated by Mary M. Lago & Tarun Gupta

The Birds

My eyes want no sleep
This spring night,
I lie in bed awake;
-I wonder what time it is!
Opposite sounds the voice of the sea,
Overhead, the skylight.
In the sky birds speak to one another,
Then vanish into the sky-where did they go?
The smell of their wings floats everywhere.

Desire came to my body this spring night,
My eyes want sleep no more;
That starlight falls from the window,
The sea-breeze
Refreshes my soul;
Everyone else is asleep-
Whose anchorage-hour has come on this sea-shore?

On that shore-a farther shore,
All these birds
Found some sheltering hill;
Then in flight before the blizzard they descended
In flocks upon the sea,
As man unknowingly meets his death.
Within wings of brown, gold, white, motley
Their life was like a rubber ball
Inside a tiny breast-
Death was present for countless miles on the face of the sea,
Truth, too, is unfathomable.

Wherever life is-the flavor of life endures,
Wherever the river endures - the sea is unperturbed,
Their lives are a game of strength-
They know this;
Wherever they turn their backs to the sleet
They find hope.

Then they leave for another land;
Traversing the skies with their loved ones
What need be said?
It was time for their first egg.

Much sea-salt is mingled with the smell of this earth,
Love and the child of love,
And that nest,
The desire-profound, profound.

      On this spring night
       My eyes want no sleep.
       Opposite sounds the voice of the sea,
       Overhead, the skylight.
       In the sky birds speak to one another.

Translated by Mary M. Lago & Tarun Gupta

If I Were a Wild Swan

If I were a wild swan,
If you were a swan,
Beside the Jalshiri River on some horizon
Next to paddy fields
Among slender reeds,
In a secret nest-

Then, on this April night,
Seeing the moon rise behind the tamarisk limbs,
Leaving the lowland water smell, we
Would float among silvered harvests of the sky-
My feathers on your wings, on mine the pulse of your blood-
In the blue sky, innumerable stars like golden paddy-field flowers,
In the shaggy green nest of the sirish grove,
Like a golden egg,
The April moon.
Perhaps a shot sounds:
Our flight is oblique,
In our wings, the joy of pistons,
In our voice, the north of wind’s song!

A second shot, perhaps:
Our silence,
Our peace.
Away with the fragmentary dying of this life;
Away with the fragmented wishes, failures and darkness;
If I were a wild swan,
If you were a swan,
Beside the Jalshiri River on some horizon
Beside the paddy fields.

Translated by Mary M. Lago & Tarun Gupta


This dawning fills the earth
     With soft green light like tender lemon leaves;
Grass as green as the unripe pomelo - such a fragrance-
     The does tear it with their teeth!
I, too, crave this grass-fragrance like green wine;
     I drink glass after glass.
I stroke the body of the grass- I smooth it eye to eye;
     My feathers on the wings of the grass
I am born as grass amid grass from some deep mother-grass,
     I descend from the sweet darkness of her body.

Translated by Mary M. Lago & Tarun Gupta


She once called out to me
Saying: “The water of this river
Is the fading fruit of the reed, like your eyes;
They keep the canvas free
Of all fatigue and bloodshed.
You are this river.”

“Is this river the Dhanshiri?”
I asked the kingfishers.
The thoughtful girl came and called it that.
I still look for that girl.
Where did she go
When she descended the endless water-stairs?

The white and black of continuous time
Come from the heart of the tapestry;
A woman of long ago
Loves fish and the soul and kingfishers-
Yet, if only the full-time city-dweller
In love with blinding light
Could become instead the River Dhanshiri.

Translated by Mary M. Lago & Tarun Gupta

The Sounds of a Dream

Sounds of a dream come and stay: old age is best;
When the lamp burns in the silent winter night,
Or they lie abed with the lamp put out,
Light of some other evening collects in the eyes of the old.

That light is steady forever;
Some day, I too shall leave everything,
Become old; in that winter night I shall put down the golden embroidery,
Lie abed with the lamp put out,
Lie awake leaning upon the darkness
Like the zigzag sky of the bats.

Old age, tell me when you will come.

Translated by Mary M. Lago & Tarun Gupta

O Kite !

O kite, golden-winged kite, on this afternoon of wet clouds
Cry no more as you circle Dhanshiri’s banks!
Your weeping evokes her sad eyes, eyes like the fruit of the reed.
Like earth’s crimson princesses she has taken her beauty far away;
Why call her back? Who enjoys searching the heart and reviving sorrow?
O kite, golden-winged kite, on this afternoon of wet clouds
Cry no more as you circle the banks of the Dhanshiri!

Translated by Mary M. Lago & Tarun Gupta

Twenty Years Later

If I meet her again twenty years from now!
Again in twenty years -
Beside a sheaf of grain, perhaps,
In the month of Kartik-
When the evening crow goes home – the yellow river
Flows softened through reeds, kash-grass into the fields!

Perhaps no grain is left in the field;
There is no need for haste.
Straw from the nest of the goose,
Straw from the nest of the bird
Is scattered – night, winter, dew at Mania’s house.

Our life has traversed decades –
If suddenly I meet you again on a country road!
Perhaps the midnight moon emerged from behind massed leaves,
Slim dark branches across its face,
Sirish or plum
Casuarina, mango;
Then after twenty years I think of you no more!

Our life has traversed decades –
If we suddenly meet again on a country road!
Then, perhaps, the owl ventures down to the field
In the darkness of the acacia lane,
In gaps of the peepul windows –
Where does it hide itself?
Descending as quietly as eyelids, where do the kite’s wings rest –

Golden, golden kite – the dew has hunted down the kite –
Twenty years from now, if suddenly I meet you in that mist!

Translated by Mary M. Lago & Tarun Gupta

You Once Showed Me

You once showed me:
The vast meadow—dense tops of pines and palms—
mile upon mile:
Sombre air of solitary afternoon
Hazed and lost in kites' wings in empty distance;
Returning again like the tide,
Conversing at length from window to window,
This world seems an illusory riverbank land.
In the distance,
In the far distance,
Like a beautiful old woman, feet outstretched
beneath strong sunlight husking rice—singing—
This afternoon breeze.
A whole lifetime passes, it seems in a single
Tender moments of the evening:
In river-water, flicking shadows of shamber, nilgai
Of one spotted white doe
Formed in milk like an image of graying custard-
On the river-water,
Through the evening.

Sometimes from afar the sandalwood fragrance of
the pyre,
Of fire--the scent of ghee;
At dusk,
Unutterable sorrow.
Evergreens in the dying sun,
piyashal, piyal, amloki, Devdaru
Desire at the heart of the breeze, energy, surf of life;
At night,
The doves--white, white-flecked, black—darting
from moonlight to shadow,
The bygone silence
Of stars and starlight.

On the shore beyond death is a great darkness
Like this darkness of light, love and solitude.

Translated by Mary M. Lago & Tarun Gupta


Sincere thanks go to Arpan Banerjee, Runa Bandopadhyay, Mesba Alam Arghya and Dolonchampa Chakraborty for assisting with compilation, content and text-processing.

Books by Jibanananda Das

jharaa paalak (Fallen Feathers), 1927.
dhushar paanDulipi (Grey Manuscript), 1936.
Banalata Sen, 1942.
mahaaprithibi (Great Universe), 1944.
saataTi taaraar timir, (Darkness of Seven Stars), 1948.
shreshhTha kabitaa, (Best Poems),1954 : Navana, Calcutta.
rupasee baanglaa (Bengal, the Beautiful), written in 1934, published posthumously in 1957.
belaa abelaa kaalabelaa (Times, Odd Times, End Times), 1961, published posthumously.
sudarshanaa(Lovely Maiden), published posthumously in 1973: Sahitya Sadan, Calcutta.
aalo prithibee (The World of Light), published posthumously in 1981 :Granthalaya Private Ltd., Calcutta.
manabihangam (Soul Bird), published posthumously in 1979 : Bengal Publishers Private Ltd. Calcutta.
aprkaashita ekaanna (Fifty-one unpublished poems), Posthumous in 1999, Mawla Brothers, Dhaka.


Bose, Buddhadev. An Acre of Green Grass. Calcutta: Papyrus, 1948.

Lago, Mary M. & Gupta, Tarun. Nine Poems by Jibanananda Das. trans. Beloit Poetry Journal. Vol 16, No. 1, Fall 1965.

Seely, Clinton, A Poet Apart : A literary biography of the Bengali Poet Jibanananda Das, University of Delaware Press, Newark. 1990.


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