Bengali Literature has a rich tradition of poetry. It is so vast that it cannot be recapitulated in short. Right from the time we learn to speak, we are taught numerous poems by our parents even before we can cross the boundary of school. And then as we step into the world of books and studies, we are introduced to the famous poets who turned the course of Bengali Literature. Their incredible poems leave an immeasurable impact on our lives.
I was fascinated by many such great poets who turned the course of Bengali Literature with the twist of modernity with which they brewed their poems. The meticulous weaving of their poetry rendered me breathless and left me in wonderment at the powerful hold that poetry has over our minds.
Kazi Nazrul Islam
One such poet whose poems I grew up hearing on a cassette that my parents used to play on the tape recorder is Kazi Nazrul Islam.
Popularly known as Bidrohi Kobi or the Rebel Poet for the rebellious aura of his poems, Kazi Nazrul Islam was the pioneer of creating poetry that loudly revolted against political exploitation, social oppressions, inhuman tortures and social injustice that reared its ugly head in India under the British rule. His poems don’t make the mind ponder but create a storm in the heart and unsettle the soul.
He himself called himself a rebel as is expressed through his poem Bidrohi:
I am the rebel eternal,
I raise my head beyond the world,
High, ever erect and alone!
Jibanananda Das, who earned the title of Rupashi Banglar Kobi or the Poet of the Beautiful Bengal, was Bengal’s most cherished poet after Tagore and Najrul. With his unfamiliar poetic diction, choice of words and thematic novelty, he became a defining essence of modernism in Bengali poetry. Although certain questions arose about the obscurity of his poetic message; soon a readership emerged who felt comfortable in his style and contributed towards his popularity.
Although he is famous for Bonolata Sen, a romance poem, I love his poem on rebirth Abar Ashibo Phire (I’ll Return Again) more.
Shall resurrect and return again to the banks of river Dhandsiri in this Bengal,
If not as human, then as conch-necked kite or a common myna fowl.
May be as a crow of dawn that flies in fields of new harvest of early winter fall.
Shall float on heart of frosts to under a shade of a Jackfruit tree diurnal.
Winning the recognition for the musical quality of his poems, poet Bishnu Dey marks the advent of the “new age poetry” in Bengali Literature. Deeply influenced by the Marxist ideologies and the styles of T.S. Eliot, his poetry reveals a poet’s solitary struggle, quest for human dignity, amidst a crisis of uprooted identity.
His romantic poem Urboshi intertwines love with nature:
Urboshi, won’t you stay through the night?
Millions stars would lit up the sky
In the deafness of night’s silence.
As if, engulfed by Rahu,
Won’t you stay enveloped in my arms?
Another poet who was also greatly influenced by Marxist philosophies and progressive ideologies was Sukanta Bhattacharya. His poetry is characterised by its rebellious nature, with socialist thoughts, patriotism and humanism with a subtle touch of romanticism—something which earned him title of Kishor Bidrohi Kobi or the Young Rebel Poet and placed him right after Nazrul. His poems are a reflection of his communist experience. In his eyes the beauty of the full moon paled before poverty of the people and he wrote a poem Hey Mahajibon comparing the moon with burnt bread—a prosaicness born of hunger.
Poetry, we do not need you anymore.
A world devastated by hunger is rendered so prosaic,
The full moon looks like grilled bread.
Inspiring many readers through his unforgettable verses, poet Shakti Chattopadhyay brought out the undying spirit of the modern Bengali Literature through various experimental works. He was one of the founders of the Hungry Generation, a literary movement in Bengali language that challenged contemporary ideas about literature. It contributed significantly towards the evolution of the language and idioms used to express one’s feelings through the art of literature.
His famous poem Abani, Bari Acho? (Abani, Are You Home?) dedicated to his friend, is my personal favourite. He wrote this poem when he was waiting for his friend Abani at his doorstep.
Here it rains all the year round
Like grazing herds the clouds here drift
These green blades of grass
Look askance as they choke my door…
‘Abani, are you home?’
The Rich Tradition of Bengali Poetry
All of these poets have greatly inspired me and shaped me into what I am today. Growing up in a Bengali family gave me the privilege to hear my mother recite poems of the great poets in her sing-song voice. Some I understood, some remained vaguely imprinted in my mind. Even today, when I hear them, my childhood memories rush back to me, engulfing me in the nostalgia of the long gone days.
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I learnt so much I did not know.