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Translation || Poetry by Jibanananda Das

Jibanananda Das (1899 – 1954) is the foremost name among poets who have written in Bengali since post-Tagore undivided Bengal. The harbinger of modernism in Bengali poetry, Das was an eclectic author who dexterously dabbled in poetry as well as fiction. In spite of being a prolific author, his ’introvert’ persona did not let him publish the majority of his works during his lifetime. It was only after his death that a massive collection of writings, locked in trunks, were discovered and intermittently published. []


Night of Winds

Last night was a night of deep winds – a night of endless stars;
Expansive gusts have played inside my mosquito net all night,
Which sometimes swelled like the belly of the monsoon sea,
Desiring at others to tear away from my bed
And reach the stars above;
At times I would feel – maybe in a state of light slumber,
There is no net on top of me,
It is but Flying by the Sirius like a white crane in the
Sea of blue winds!
Such a fine night it was!

All the dead stars came alive – the sky had no more space;
I saw the faces of the grey, dear departed of this earth in that swarm;
The stars they twinkled like the lover hawk’s dewy eyes
On a fig-top in a dark night;
In the moonlight, the sky shone like the dazzling leopard-skin shawl adorning the
Neck of a Babylonian queen!
Such an astounding night it was!

The stars that died out thousands of years ago –
Even they had brought numerous dead skies through my window;
The beauties I had witnessed the deaths of in Assyria, Egypt, Vidisha
Had assembled on the distant edge of space last night, standing as if in
Battle formation holding long spears behind a veil of fog –
In order to conquer death?
To express the profound victory of life?
Or to erect fearful, sombre monuments of love?

Benumbed – overwhelmed I have become,
The intense blue torture of the night before has torn me apart;
In the ceaseless wings of the sky,
Earth has been obliterated like a bug last night!
And wild winds have descended from above,
Whooshing inside my window,
Like stricken zebras in a green expanse haunted by the lion’s roar.
My heart has been filled with the smell of the green grass of the vast Veldt,
The essence of the horizon-plundering sunshine,
The great, alive, hairy ecstasy of the restless, endless darkness like
The roar of a concupiscent tigress,
My heart has been filled with life’s brilliant blue intoxication!

My heart tore from the earth and flew away,
Like an inflated, drunk balloon on the ocean of blue winds,
Chasing the mast of a distant celestial body from star to star
Like a restless vulture. []


Prey

Dawn;
Sky the soft blue of a grasshopper’s body:
Green as parrot feathers are the surrounding guava and sweetsop groves.
A solitary star shines in the sky still:
Like the twilight-drunk girl on a pastoral wedding night;
Or the Pearl from the breast of the Egyptian lady
Which she put in my blue pitcher of liquor
Thousands of years before on one night –
So shines a star in the sky still.

The rural women have lit fires all over the field
To preserve the warmth within –
Red fire like cockscomb;
Their fire burns still, crushing the dried fig leaves underneath;

They have lost their saffron in the glory of the sun;
Becoming fading wishes of a beaten down Myna instead.
The trees and the sky shine like the green and blue wings of a peacock
In the morning light, among the delicate dewdrops.

Dawn;
Evading the leopardess all night long
Traversing the starless mahogany dark of Sundari and Arjuna groves,
The beautiful chestnut deer was waiting for this dawn!
He has come down upon the morning light;
Eating green, aromatic grass like unripe pomelo;
He climbs down the sharp, cold waves of the river –
To gift his sleepless, tired, anxious body a jolt of emotion–
To experience the unreserved cheer of the light of dawn piercing
The frozen wombs of darkness;
So he can rise like the sceptre of the sun under this deep blue sky
To astonish one doe after the other with bravado, desire and beauty.

A strange sound.
The river turns red like the petals of the Mochka flower.
The fire starts again – the warm venison comes prepared.
Under the planets on a bed of grass, exchanging dewy stories;
Cigarette smoke;
Heads full of hair fashioned in barbershops;
A few scattered guns – cold – lifeless, innocent sleep.


For a thousand years she merely plays

For a thousand years she merely plays like a firefly in the dark;
Darkness is ordained for all eternity;
Moonbeams on the sand – sporadic shadows of the firs
like the pounded pillars: of Dwarka – standing lifeless, pale.
Our bodies smell of sleep – ties of life they are all done;
‘Do you remember?’ she asks – I merely wonder, ‘Banalata Sen?’ []


Twenty years hence

What if I come across her again twenty years hence.
Twenty years hence, again –
Perhaps by bundled paddy
in November end –
Then the twilight crow returns home – then the yellow river
becomes soft and humble among the sedge catkin bulrush – in the field.

Or there is no harvest to reap;
there is no engagement,
hay from the home of ducks
straw from the nest of birds
get scattered; Droplets of night, cold and the dew in munia’s home.

Life has left us a good score ahead –
If all of a sudden I find you in a rustic bend –

Perhaps the moon at midnight arrives behind a cluster of leaves;
Thin and willowy, jet black stalks streaking across its face,
of gum or peach,
perhaps tamarisk – or mango;
I wouldn’t remember you twenty years hence!

Life then has left us twenty years by –
If then we meet again, you and I!

Perhaps the owl creeps down upon the field then –
In the dark alley of a Babul tree,
somewhere among the windows of Peepal,
he hides you.

Like a drooping eyelid, a kite drops down and rests its wings –

The glistening, golden bird – hunted away by the dew –
What if I find you all of a sudden, in that fog, twenty years hence. []


First Published: CultureCult Magazine, Issue One: October 2015

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