Selected Bengali Poetry

Presented by KAURAB

Rabindranath Thakur

Translations of Selected Poems and Songs
April, 2009

Prithwindra Mukherjee

In my book-shelf, there is a collection of the Bengali works - in prose and verse - by Rabindranath Thakur, complete in seventeen volumes, brought out on the 125th anniversary of the author’s birth. Popular as Robi Thakur, he lived during the last thirty-nine years of the 19th century and the first forty-one years of the 20th. At the age of fifty, Thakur is said to have translated a selection of his poems into English and published them under the signature of Rabindranath Tagore but, in spite of receiving a coveted award like the Nobel Prize in 1913, he was more of a traitor than a translator of his own poetry : quite indifferent to the aesthetic specificity of his prosody intimately married to the semantic excellence of the compositions, he wanted to avoid hurting the puritan English-reading public with the initial ornamented presentation of his poems. Fortunately the number of his works thus “translated” represents rather a small portion of his total publications in Bengali.

Encouraged by the audacity of earnest translators who, down the decades, have successfully tried their art and science in bringing out Thakur’s original Bengali writings – often approved by the author - in other languages of India and of the world, since long I had been planning to test my merits in this craft. Author of an anthology of Bengali poetry in my French translation (in addition to some other similar exploits), I have also tried my hand in translating mostly French authors – René Char, Albert Camus, St-John Perse – into Bengali.

The chronological order of the poems helps the reader to appraise the blossoming of the poetic genius of Thakur. During his stay on the houseboat at Shilaidah in the 1890s, in close contact with the rural life of the subjects of his family estate, Thakur was in a mood to produce an interesting crop of short stories, along with the narrative groups of poems included in Katha ("Tales") and Kahini ("Legends") : though most of them are well known to the Bengali readers, I have not selected them for the time being. Thakur did not name some of his short pieces such as in Kanika (“Morsels”), even though each of them be a complete poem; I have taken the liberty of naming them. For obvious reasons, I have sacrificed the rhymes of the Bengali origin.

Poems :

The Waking of a Cascade

This morning how could the rays of the sun
Penetrate inside the heart,
How did songs of the morning birds
Enter the cavern ?
I wonder why after such a long time
The heart has woken up.
The heart has woken up,
O waters keep on swelling,
The desires and the impulsions of the heart
I can restrain no more.
From the trembling mountain
Slide heaps of rocks,
Surging and surging the foaming waters
Keep on hissing vehemently.
Turning and turning, maddened they rush
Here and there,
In an urge to escape they cannot find
The exit of their prison.
As if to snatch the morning, as if
To shred the sky,
They shoot up towards the void
Before falling a-whimpering.
The ecstasy of heart drives them to run,
To tear the mountain’s core asunder,
Amorous with their uplifted arms
They seek to climb up to the sky.

[Prabhat-Samgit, ‘Morning Songs’, 1883]


I do not want to die out in this beautiful world,
I long to live among men,
Under this sunlight, in this grove of flowers
If I find a place inside a living heart.
The play of life is ever flowing on earth,
Separation, reunion accompanying laughter and tears,
If I can create an immortal abode
By composing a song with human joy and sorrow.
If I cannot, let me have my refuge
In your midst for the rest of my life :
May I help blossoming flowers of ever new songs
For you to pluck at dawn and at dusk.
After accepting those flowers with a smiling face
Throw them away once the flowers will have faded.

[Kadi o komal, ‘Sharp and flat’, 1886]


Sacred summits (1) where gods revel,
Mountains of gold.
Upraised breasts of Sati (2) with their heavenly rays
Illuminates the mortal home of man.
Thereon the little sun rises to bid good morning,
Wearied in the evening it sets thereon.
Apples of the eyes of God on vigil throughout the night
On the sacred twin peaks immaculate.
They keep on sprinkling the lips of the universe.
With the nectar-fountain of eternal love.
Ever awake above the slumbering earth,
They are vast solace for the helpless world.
Inhabiting the earth they embrace heaven,
Motherland of men who are children of God.

1.Sumeru : “A fabulous mountain in the navel or centre of the earth, on which is situated Swarga, the Heaven…” (John Dowson, Hindu Mythology, 10th Edition, 1961, p.208)
2.Young Durgâ, the Divine Bride, exclusively surrendered to Shiva her spouse


Shed your garments, drop the veil.
Be just clad in naked beauty’s robe
Attire of a heaven-lass dressed in light.
The buxom body like a full-blossomed lotus,
A feast of life and youth and grace.
Come and stand alone in the wonder, this world.
Let permeate your limbs with the beams of your moon,
Let permeate your limbs with zephyr’s caress.
Plunge into the infinite blue of the sky
Like naked Nature spangled with stars.
Let Atanu conceal his face with his tunic’s fold,
With bended head ashamed of the body’s bloom.
Invite immaculate dawn at men’s abode,
Shameless virginity, white, naked.

[Kadi o komal, ‘Sharp and flat’, 1886]

Bodies Meeting

Each limb craves for every limb.
Union of spirit looks for union of bodies.
Body possessed by heart with the weight of heart
Longs to faint into your body.
Eyes endlessly drawn by your eyes,
Lips want to die inside your lips.
Thirsty the soul is bitterly wailing
To contemplate you with every limb.
Heart concealed in the pool of body,
Eternally I keep on weeping on its bank.
Pouring all my limbs in the yearning heart
I shall plunge into the mystery of body.
Day and night, my mind, my body for ever
Will get absorbed in each of your limbs.

[Kadi o komal, ‘Sharp and flat’, 1886]


On looking at that body it comes to my mind
Memories of hundreds of life, it seems.
Those eyes conceal thousands of pleasure forgotten
Like songs of springtime life after life.
As if you were my self-oblivion,
For time immemorial my pleasure and pain,
A host of flower groves of a new land,
A host of moonbeams of a new sky.
You are like the suffering of days of separation,
You are the bashful nights of love,
All that laughter, those tears, those flashes
Have assumed that honeyed body this day.
Therefore, night and day, by contemplating your face
Life appears to melt into an elsewhere.

Beauty asleep : still life

The evening twilight is bound by a spell.
On the canvas the evening star has not set.
Having undone her undulating locks
She sleeps resting her head on an arm.
Who is it who has helped her to fall asleep
In the midst of a permanent vigil on earth ?
Having culled from nowhere murmurs of silence
And has poured them for ever inside her ears.
An unending waterfall behind the image
Keeps on gushing in silent songs.
For ever the silent rustling of the forest,
For ever stands the bashful presence,
As soon as she wakes up, ashamed
She will cover her breast with her robe.

[Kadi o komal, ‘Sharp and flat’, 1886]

Total Union

Night and day, I weep, O Love, for a union,
Union resembling a hungry death.
Come and bind me, pluck me away,
Strip me of modesty, of raiment, of screen.
Come and steal this juvenile body,
Bereave my eyes of sleep, of dream of sleeping.
Rob this universe vast and awake,
My life and my death, for an eternity.
At the crematorium of union amid a solitary world
Where the creation has fainted with the extinction of the sun,
Shameless unclothed in two naked hearts
Let you and me become beauty infinite.
What an audacious dream, O Lord,
Where lies this union without You ?

[Kadi o komal, ‘Sharp and flat’, 1886]

Infinity, Miniscule

Infinite day and night in an effusion of Time,
Only one glimpse in its midst,
A lovely evening, a breeze,
The drunkenness of union between soft darkness and light :
Right at its core merely a tiny jasmine,
A shade of perfume with a drop of smile
Hardly approachable its tiny lips
Keeps on blossoming out of its joy
Before it falls even out of its joy.
Entire Infinity within that glimpse
Becomes a jasmine by the side of a forest.
Infinity manifests at the heart of the moment.
With the passing of the moment falls the flower,
Infinity returns within itself.

[Kadi o komal, ‘Sharp and flat’, 1886]


Ceaselessly with all my heart
I remember You,
In the solitude beyond the world
      I accost You,
Having robbed me of my life and death
      You are there.

I find you shoreless,
My love, too, is matchless
      That I carry within myself.
My whole heart
      Like the sun at the peak of rising
Keeps on gazing like an eye
      Momentarily dead.
Unfathomable, endless, a vagabond vision
      Admits no barrier.
As if you were this generous sky,
As if I were this shoreless ocean,
In the midst of it rejoices the moonbeam of joy.

You are ever serene night and day,
Restless I am relentless,
      Agitated, irresistible :
As far as I perceive from horizon to horizon,
      You and I are one.

[Manasi, ‘Mind-born Muse’]

Parting Gift

I am Night, you are Flower. As long as you were a bud
Covering the dark sky, awake, hiding you on my breast
I kept watch on you with my legion of constellations.
As you blossomed with that beautiful juvenile face,
Dawn came, my term was over.
The nocturnal intimacy was rent by light.
You belong to the world now; bees humming all around
Resound in overtones of awe;
Birds sing, the wind blows; currents of felicity
Perplex the sprouting life.
I never possessed so much light and happiness
And song and life, I had offered
Mere sleep, mere peace, an affectionate quiet,
Merely a vigilant gaze, mere dialogue from mind to mind.

Did I offer nothing more ? When greedy dawn
Looked at you, in hundred voices hundreds of birds
Uttered your name, a drop of dew at that moment
Fell from mine eyes to yours. I disappeared.
That drop of melancholy, the parting gift
Will protect keeping moist your youthful face
From the glare of delight; flashing on that tear of Night
The smile of dawn will impart a peerless grace
Turning more beautiful your beauty in bloom.

[Manasi, ‘Mind-born Muse’ (3)]

3.Composed on board the Tames (25 October, 1890) on his return trip from Europe, while crossing the Red Sea ; Tagore recognises that originally the poem had been written in English by his friend Lokendranath Palit.


I have surrendered all –
My heart, my life –
Only retaining modesty for myself.
Night and day with precaution
Watching my own self
Carefully I keep myself covert.

O my Friend, this transparent raiment
Taunts me incessantly,
I cannot wear it always :
With a slanting glance
Secretly You smile
And it drives me sick with shame.

When the west wind ruffles
A flap of my robe,
I cannot control it,
Athirst for rapture
My heart animates the limbs
Before I get suddenly aware.

When I feel suffocated
Within my four walls,
Undoing half of my clothing
I sit by the window,
In the pleasant breeze of twilight
To forget myself for a while.

Beams of the full moon
Come to faint
On these blossoms of youth,
My love-laden limbs
Conceal them with a smile
Under their veil of grace.

Playful the wind blows
On my face, my breast and my hair,
Perfuming the air with flowers :
When you appear
As though in a dream,
I can recall nothing more.

Stop, O Friend, now spare
This trifle, do not rob it
Let me keep this modesty for myself,
Remnant of everything else
Let this shame be
Capable of hiding it imperfectly.

Eyes replete with tears
Do not you grudge me,
I too have wept for nights;
I fail to explain why
Having offered everything
I attach all of it with shame :

Why do I conceal
This bit from you,
Slightly turning my face away ?
I am not at all diffident,
Nor even am I jocular,
I am not toying with you.

In this night of springtide
Enjoy the fragrance, enjoy the honey
Tenderly gazing at my face.
Call me with soft names,
Rock me on all sides,
Respecting only this stem.

Counting on it alone,
With such sweetness
I remain blooming for you,
In this seduction
My limbs are bathed with
A youthful grace :

Such a frolic with the wind
Through all hours night and day
A fair of vernal flowers.
Listen, O Friend, now listen :
Everything will be yours,
Spare only my modesty.

[Sonar Tari, “The Golden Bark”, 1893]


On my lap the lute had been tuned,
      Varied melodies crowded my mind,
I had never imagined
      That the string would sever.
Blow out the lamp today, I pray,
      Close the door :
Cancelling the concert, disperse
      O my heart.
I have not been able
      To fulfil all that you wished :
Who knew that the string would break
      Before the music was over.

I had hoped to pour out my mind
      Flooding in ten directions (4) :
Blended with fragrance and joy
      The full moon night would be fuller.
I had hoped you all would come
      And sit all around,
You would bedeck after the music
      My neck with garlands,
I would spend up all my speech
      All my tales :
I had never imagined
      That the string would sever.

Today onward, have mercy, all of you
      Forget everything, return home :
Do not take me to task
      For my interruption.
I want by this evening
      In silence, all alone
Sleep on the floor
      Fainted, mute.
I long for a peace without glory,
      A serene darkness.
Much before all music could
      The string severed.

[Chitra , “The Painted Woman”, 1895]
4.East, West, North, South, their intersections, the Zenith and the Nadir.

God, Forsaken

Inside God’s temple a veteran devotee
Was busy turning his beads night and day
When in the evening with dust-covered limbs
Therein entered a poor man weary and naked.
He uttered in plight : “I have no home,
Have pity and find me a corner here.”
Full of compunction, the devotee replied :
“Be off, impious, rid me of your presence.”
He accepted : “So I go !” And in no time
The beggar assumed the Divine’s form.
Sighing, the devotee gasped : “What a deceit, O Lord !”
The God said : “You have turned me out.
I move on throughout the world in disguise of the poor,
I feel at home when the homeless finds a shelter.”

[Chaitali , 1896]


         My valet did not turn up in the morning.
The door remains open ajar.    No water waiting for my bath,
         The imbecile was absent last night.
I do not know where    He keeps my clean clothes,
         Nor how to prepare my breakfast!
The clock goes on tick tocking    In extreme annoyance
         I wait for my turn to censure him.
Very late, at last    He appears with a salute
         And stands with folded hands.
At the top of my anger    I bid him : “Get out,
         I do not want to see you any more.”
On hearing this, dumb-founded    For a very short while
         He gazes at my face,
Before uttering in a broken voice :    “In the dead of last night
         My little daughter is dead.”
Immediately, on announcing this He takes the duster on his shoulder
         To attend his lonely chore.
Like all other days    Scrubbing, cleaning, sweeping, all
         He leaves nothing undone.

[Chaitali, 1896]
In a letter dated 14 August 1895, from Shilaidah, Tagore mentioned how one morning he had got crossed with his khansama’s (cook) coming late; having informed him of his daughter’s death, the man had silently resumed his chores. Elsewhere Tagore recognized that the functional distance that had existed between them was lifted at once, in the solidarity of two men, both of them fathers of young daughters...

Warning to Civilization

Give us back that forest, take this city away,
Take away all this iron, brick, wood and stone,
O young civilization ! All-devouring, O merciless,
Give back that sacred and shadowy hermitage,
Days immaculate, evenings spent in bathing,
That pasture, that solemn chanting of hymns,
Handfuls of that wild rice, that bark-made loin-cloth,
Plunged in the self, the accustomed dialogue
On the great principles. Inside your stony cage
We refuse a newfangled secure and regal feast :
We want liberty, we want vast wingspan,
We want to recover in the chest our strength,
We want to feel in the heart by shattering all bonds
The heartbeats of this endless universe.

[Chaitali, 1896]

Princess Puntu

The noon of April keeps on lingering.
The earth is thirsty by the scorching day.
At such a moment I heard outside
Someone summoning : “Come, Princess Puntu.”
Near the solitary river bank under midday heat
My curiosity cropped up by that affectionate voice.
On closing my book I rose leisurely,
Half opened the door to peep outside.
An enormous buffalo smeared with mud
Was waiting on the riverside with tender eyes.
Standing in the water, a youngman was calling
To bathe her : “Come, O Princess Puntu !”
On gazing at that youngman and gazing at his Princess
My amusement was moist with serenity.

[Chaitali, 1896]

The Ignorant

Let those who with eyes closed wish to meditate
Acquire the knowledge whether the creation is real or an illusion.
In the meanwhile sitting with my insatiate gaze
I contemplate the creation in broad daylight.

[Chaitali, 1896]

The Muse (5)

You have not been created by God alone, O woman,
Man has moulded you by culling from within
Your beauty. An assembly of poets
Weave a web with golden threads of similes,
By superimposing an ever-new glamour on you
Sculptors go on immortalizing your image.
Ever so many hues and perfumes and ornaments –
Pearls from oceans and gold from mines,
Wreathes of flowers from springtime woods,
Insects shed their lives to redden your feet. (6)
Bestowing on you modesty and decoration and garments
He has rarefied you by concealing.
An ardent desire deflecting on you,
By half you are human, and imagination by half.

[Chaitali, 1896]
5. Manasi, ”She who is born out of Manas” : in Indian Philosophy, Manas is the 6th Sense which precedes and guides the five others.
6. Lac (alaktak or aaltaa in Bangla) , secreted by an insect, used as cosmetics

True Relation

The infatuated pumpkin considers
Its bamboo trellis to be a mythical aeroplane. (7)
By contempt never looks down on earth,
Saluting as brothers the moon, the sun and the stars.
Convinced to be a celestial being,
It sighs while contemplating the Void.
It thinks that only the stem, too coarse,
Clings it to the earth as its kith and kin.
In no time, once getting rid of that stem
It can soar at will to its luminous sphere.
Once the stem severed, it understood well
The sun is not its relative, the earth is its all in all.

[Kanika, “Morsels”,1899]
7. Pushpak Rath (Flying Flower Chariot), in the Indian epics


There was contest between a hornet and a bee,
Both disputing to determine who was the stronger.
The hornet argued : there are thousand proofs
That you cannot sting as hard as I do.
The bee remained speechless with tearful eyes.
The Goddess of the forest came to whisper in her ears :
Why are you crestfallen ? It is true, O Child,
You lag behind in poison, but you are victorious in honey.

[Kanika, “Morsels”,1899]


The axe proposed : I beg of you, O Sal (8) !
I have no handle, spare me a branch.
As soon as the branch took the shape of a handle,
The beggar forgot to think anymore :
It started hewing the trunk right from the root,
The poor Sal lost its notion of beginning and end.

[Kanika, “Morsels”,1899]
8. Shorea robusta Gaetern, tall and robust trees : the leaves are used for packing eatables.


A kerosene flame threatens the oil lamp :
If you call me brother, I shall throttle you.
Meanwhile, as the moon rises in the sky,
The kerosene calls out : Welcome, big brother !

Gift of the humble

The desert regrets : You bring so much water for me, a poor creature,
What can I offer you in return ? I possess nothing !
Replies the cloud : I ask nothing, O desert,
You grant me the pleasure of making you a gift.

[Kanika, “Morsels”,1899]


All poems translated from original Bengali by Prithwindra Mukherjee

Dr. Prithwindra Mukherjee (b. Calcutta, 1936) is a poet, historian, musicologist, translator (Bengali↔ French↔ English), author of more than 50 books, 12 LPs/CDs, 2 Documentary films. He has done more than 100 hours of features broadcast on Radio-France. Awarded a French Government Scholarship (1966-1970) and Fulbright Scholarship (1981), Prithwindra has also served as Research Fellow, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris (1981-2003); Lecturer : University Paris III-INALCO and University of Paris-XII (1974-1981); Chevalier in the Order of Arts & Letters (2009). Bengali readers remember him for his translations of Albert Camus, St-John Perse, René Char. Prithwindra also writes in French. His French poetry has been translated into about a dozen languages.

Selected Bengali Poetry
Selected Bengali Poets Generation-1930
Selected Bengali Poets Generation-1950
Selected Bengali Poets Generation-1960
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