Master of imagery
Ramesh Luthra

Jibanananda Das: Selected poems
Penguin. Pages 82. Rs 150.

Jibanananda Das: Selected poemsTHE great Bengali poet Jibanananda Das had the honour of bringing a synthesis between Tagore legacy and the new trends in Bengali poetry. Rightly does Chidananda Das Gupta remark that even Tagore didnít realise that Jibanananda Das would emerge as Bengalís most important poet of the post-Tagore era, "destined to bring into Bengali poetry of his times an anguished awareness of modernity in striking language and imaginary."

The collection shows the poetís superb handling of themes and imagery. With his rural background, which left a lasting impression on his works, he stood apart from other Bengali poets. Time and again the rural ambience is referred to in numerous poems. His love for nature is well illustrated in What Else Before Death? "We who have walked the fields of hay in the autumn twilight`85! We who seen the trees filled with fireflies`85." Again in Evening Comes, he describes beautifully: "A wisp of hay in the mouth, a sparrow flies quietly home and so on." Indeed, his poems are replete with description of nature in its diverse forms.

Jibananandaís rural background made him sensitive to nature in all its aspects. "The scent of wet earth, the grass, the fallen leaves" in Three Stray Stanzas shows that his whole being is immersed in nature. Animals and birds donít fascinate him less. Even the owl, rat and cat find numerous references.

Though he didnít believe in the so-called rituals, spirituality was an essentially part of his personality. For him spirituality and nature were closely associated.

Suchetana is worth quoting in this respect: "The good earth called me to be born/In human home and I knowing I/should not yet came I/have touched the stuff of the dew on the leaf at dawn."

Quite often he uses the word Ďyetí, which serve as a bridge between his agony over the state of mankind at present and his firm faith in the ultimate freedom he gets from it. In The Likeness of the Sun, too, he writes: "O quarters of the earth, somewhere I hear the bird/ somewhere there is sunrise yet to be met." Quite true in his early poetry, Jibanananda weary of the struggle of life longs to embrace death. The poem Darkness is worth quoting, "I sought to go to sleep again/To merge into the breast the dark/into the vaginal darkness of the limitless death." He doesnít want to "awaken" againó"O you knots in the thread of time`85/Why do you labour to awaken me?" Death wish finds voice in Starlight and What Else, Before Death? Too.

What fascinated the reader most about Jibananandaís poetry is gradual development of poetís thinking. From a man who wanted to embrace death he rises to one who thinks it is a sin to lose faith in mankind. In Near and Far, he moves from "Death, loss, fear" to "Rises another world, made gentle`85On this earth with this love/And this, with the heartís signal".

Another striking quality of these poems is the element of transcendence, which forms an integral part of all Bengali poetry. Ever since manís advent on the earth, he has been making efforts to rise to a higher moral order. Like Tagore, Jibanananda too has staunch faith in the inherent goodness of mankind despite despondence here and there.

The Traveller gives us a fine glimpse of poetís deep interest in mysticism. Before life began, "Behind it lay the hieroglyphic fog`85/Whose meaning to eternal history/Remains unfathomed". The lines haunt us long before we have laid down the book.

Imagery is to poetry what ornaments are to body. It pours life into the thought content of a poem. It is clearly exemplified in Jibananandaís poetry. Basically, he drew his imagery from his rural upbringing. Time and again he brings in fields: "A sicklemoon/Has sliced out the fieldís last crops of peas or terraced rice fields."

Being a sensuous poet invariably his imagery appeals to our senses. Images are drawn from history, geography and science rather than mythology. Graphic and picturesque images are another beauty of his poetry.

Chidananda Das Gupta has done the mantle of a translator in very befitting manner. He has done his best to retain the spirit and meaning of the original poems and has put forth them in a very simple but lyrical English. The collection is in fact a rich tribute to the late poet and an asset to English literature. A must on the shelves of all lovers of English poetry.