Discussions on the trends of modern and post modern bengali poetry should remind us the fact that every new experiment has its poets in earlier tradition of creativity which has been silently nourished and built up by poets of our language. The last half of this century has been many meaningful experiments in bengali poetry. To begin with the Forties of the Century, the Post-Tagorean period may be taken as a watershed in the contemporary history of our poetry.
The break came with, Subhas Mukhopadhyay whose first book of poems "Padatik" (The Foot Traveller) was first published in 1940, a year before Tagore's death (1861-1941) when he was a young fire brand marxist. His was a new voice. His new diction and metrical virtuosity immediately attracted notice from discerning readers and critics. It was a departure from the modernists of earlier generation The Kalloleans, so called for their attachment to an avant grade literary magazine Kallol of the earlier decade. The trend setters of the thirties were headed by Siduindranath Datta, Buddhadeva Bose and Bishnu Dey joined by Samar Sen at a later period. Bengali Poetry was tirelessly trying to make a break through from the magic world of Tagore. The forties offered this opportunity to the younger generations of poets. It was the beginning of a new chapter of creative urge to represent the time and the social reality through sensitive response of the poetic soul. It was a difficult time for Bengal. The second world war brought the enemy at her doorstep. Great Bengal Famine, most cruel and man made was stalking the unfortunate land. Many of the old values were being trampled upon by forces of devil let loose by war. It was the time of crisis of civilization as mentioned by Tagore in his last birthday speech in 1940. The spirit of the time can be best described by presenting a few lines from a celebrated poet of this period Dinesh Das. Here is a free rendering of a stanza from his famous poem Kaste (The Sickle):
Did you love to beholdThe curve of the crescent moon?This is not the century of the moonThe moon of this age is the sickle."(Kaste : Dinesh Das)
Poetry was trying to deconstruct the traditional romantic imageries. The ravages of war time operations in society and its value system completely disenchanted the poets who were inspired by the ideals of humanism and dream of a just society, free from domination and exploitation. Here is an extract from Subhas Mukhopadhyay's poem:
"My love, to day is not for playing with flowersWe are face to face with destructionOur eyes no more glisten with blue wine of dreamOur skin is baked by scorching sunrays."(From Padatik "May Diner Kavita")
Poetry was in no mood to remain in splendid solitude. Poetry was participating in the living experience of the people. It was done with artistic success by ideologically committed poets to turn the attention of the readers from the traditional moderns. The poetry of Jibanananda Das (1899-1954) with its haunting music and imageries was a class apart being strikingly original delving deep into the inner self and creating unparalleled beauty with words. Even today long after his death, Jibananda Das remains a unique poet, a lonely sojourner in the realm of poetry who has given new dimension to the use of Bengali Language as vehicle of poetic expression. No other poet has so successfully created such a spell over generations of poet which remains as tantalizing as when it was first written. We quote his widely acclaimed poem, "Banalata Sen":
"A thousand years I have wandered upon the earthfrom the sea of Ceylon to the midnight sea of MalayMuch have I-wandered; in the grey lands of Wimvisar and Asoka,There have I been; and to the dark, distant town of VidarvaTired of this life, this foaming sea of life,I found peace for a while with Banalata Sen of Natore.Her hair is dark as the nights of far VidishaHer face the architecture of SaraswatiAs the rudderless pilotDrifting and lost on distant seaSees the island of cinnamon trees and grass belowSo have been her darkness, who asked me:Where have you been so long away?This she asked raising her bird-nest eyes, Banalata Sen of Natore."(Extract from Banalata Sen translated by Martin Kirkman)
Another of his most eminent contemporary was Bishnu Dey, a marxist intellectual who created a school of poets. Buddhadeva Bose has said of him: "He is polished, accomplished, dazzling; a daring innovator in technique; self conscious and hard working...... and great virtue of Bishnu Dey's poetry is, I think, a haunting music which can come only from one who writes poetry because he must." (An acre of green grass). Bishnu Dey had been a much acclaimed poet. Sometimes he was termed as difficult. But as years passed his poetry enthralled all poetry lovers because of his dazzling brilliance in synthesizing renaissance humanism with his adherence to the best in our folk tradition. His poetic vision was universal, his approach was that of an urban cosmopolitan. His poetry is rich in imageries both visual and cerebral. His poetic response to the changing patterns in society lifted his creation to a higher level of social consciousness. During his pretty long years of creativity Bishnu Dey remained steadfast in his search for truth among his country's people and their lore and never wavering from his belief of the ultimate triumph of his people who have all along grievously suffered in a unjust society. Here is a sample:
On either side the woods, in the middle the roadGleamingly goes winding as nature beats the tune.In the night-light, every now and then eyes glow,young rabbits jump across dancing.I have seen in the palasha bushes on rounded hillocksWild peacocks' Katthak in sudden joy,By the shady tent on the golden sitar of the streamI'have counterpointed its grace.They come in silence to the riverbank and lap their drinkI've heard the fawn-call of the Sindhumuni.There goes the panther in greedy violent stepsRousing the entire Kathakali temple of wild lifeWhere are the woods gone? Yet there are no settlements,Only the bare plains, only the howl of the dry wind.The jungles all cleared off, the villages dead, the criticsyet to be founded and the peacocks stuffed into commoditiesWhy in this land is man dumb and helpless?Why are rivers, trees, hills so unimportant?How long do we run about carrying our tents?When does the alien set up his own home?(The Alien : Translated by the poet)
Another remarkable phenomenon of this period was a young poet Sukanta Bhattacharya (1926-1947). He died young. But within this short span of life Sukanta wrote poetry which is acclaimed as much for its revolutionary fervour as for artistic excellence. He wrote brilliantly as a young Communist with deep involvement with the cause. The transparent sincerity in what he wrote and he wrote for a better world for his people forever toiling and suffering . He died before attaining maturity. But the poetry he wrote has contributed to the development of social awareness in the mainstream poetry. His language had stark beauty and he loved to communicate with youthful zeal. His use of metaphor and symbols speaks of deep commitment of this poet to the cause of the people. Here is an extract from his poem:
"I am neither dead nor inertLike the something that's hidIn dark mines.I am burgeoning life, a seed sprouted.Earth-nurtured and timid,Swaddled still in pre-natal dreams,I have, responsive to the sky's call,Just opened my dubious eyes.Although a little nobodyAmongst the big banyans,As yet unperceived my small frameMurmurs as musically as they.I have rent open the earth's crust,Seen the sun's diurnal motion,And the vast consciousnessOf whole forest seeps within my roots.Merely a sprouted seed todayTomorrow I shall have a head of leafletsI shall away it the wayThe unruly wind blows,Keeping time, beat by beat,Thereafter, I shall standIn the full view of everyoneDisplaying the pride of my branches"(Time to come : Translated by Kshitish Roy)
Bengali poetry had already undergone transformation both in content and in form a the hands of such modernists as Sudhindra Nath Datta, Buddhadeva Bose and Amiya Chakravorty. Sudhindranath was a model of a modern post. His style was direct, lucid and in choice of words he was unmatchable. A sense of alienation pervades his poetry. He was difficult but not obscure : Here is an extract from His famous poem "The Ostrich":
You hear me well : and yet you tryTo hide within the desert's fold.Here shadows shrink until they dies,While dead horizons cannot hold,The quick mirage, and never near,The cruel sky is mute and blue.The hunter stalks no panthom deer;He loses all by losing you.The sands are heedless. Why run on,When tell-tale footprints point the way?Your pre-historic friends are gone,And, all alone, you stand at Bay."(The Ostrich : Translated by the poet)
There were other voices too. Contemporary realities born out of war, famine and the unrest and the rebellion of the people had its impact on the consciousness of the poets as well. It was not possible for the poets to remain in seclusion. The art of the poetry demanded response from its creators to reciprocate the hopes and aspirations of the people. Modern poetry serves as the mediator between action and contemplation. It is essentially true for Bengali Poetry. It is the bridge between luminous solitude the poetic soul and the world of action. Modern Bengali poetry beginning from the forties have been characterized as the link between action and contemplation. Poetry lives by the inflow of sap received from life around.
There has always been a controversy whether poetry should be subservient to current events or not. It should not degenerate into propaganda. That the controversy was merely theoretical is evident from the fact that the heritage of social awareness of the poets is acclaimed by readers. In fact the progressive trend in Bengali poetry with its socially relevant congent belongs to the living tradition of Bengali Culture. Poetry cannot be written in isolation. It is an exploration of man's relation with his environment, the social interaction, political belief, scientific advancement, the question of war and peace and similar other problems that guide man's destiny in the modern world. True to its tradition, modern Bengali poetry encompasses the varieties of life and human sensibilities. Modern Poetry is not merely a spontaneous expression. It requires discipline as well as inspiration. It is part of the many-sided tradition of the people.Three literary magazines Kavita, Parichay and Krittibas are credited with creating new waves in Bengali poetry during the last few decades. The different trends in Bengali poetry may be traced to these different schools of poets whose contributions were made in the pages of these magazines. Of these three, Krittibas came to the literary scene in mid-fifties trying to break the tradition of its two celebrated predecessors. By these time experiments in poetry had been successfully made through parichay and kavita by a galaxy of poets like Arun Mitra, Samal Sen, Manindar Ray, Mangala Charan Chattopadhyay, Kiran Sankar Sengupta, Ram Basu, Nirendranath Chakravarty and Birendra Chattopadhyay. Technically speaking, modern poets prefer writing prose poems. This form has brought the poets closer to the readers, being informal, and unfettered by artificial restrictions of mere rhyming. This has given widest scope to the poets to bring poetry closer to the spoken form of the language. Recently many younger poets have shown their skill in excellent rhyming thus creating music and beauty of the chosen words. Elder poets like Mahindra Ray, Nirendranath Chakravarty are also very meticulous about the form of poetry, ceaselessly experimenting in different rhymes and measures.
The most wellknown poets of the Krittibas group are Sunil Gangopadhyay, Sakti Chattopadhyay and Tarapada Roy. The mid fifties saw the rise of a new generation of poets trying to bring out in their poetry new sense of purpose as envisioned by the younger generation. Their poetry was marked by and urgency to express the longing of the soul, to become more daring in exploration of the mind and quite uninhibited in choice of words. There was also an undertone of lyricism and conscious effort to be pictorial sometimes. These poets chose their own idioms. Sometimes lyrical echoes of Jibabababda were successfully presented.
Sakti Chattopadhyay especially spoke in refreshing candour. He says:
I've resolved to make a turn and stand backI've besmeared my two hands with black so longBut I've never thought of you as you are.Now when I stand beside the ditch at nightThe moon calls: come, come to me.Now when I stand on the bank of Ganga sleepingThe firewood of the pyre calls: come, come to me.I can go.I can go whatever direction I like.But why should I?I will take hold of my child's face and kissI can goBut, I will not go just nowI will take you all along with meI will not go alone untimely.(Free translation of "JETEY PARI KINTU KANOE JABOE": Shakti Chattopadhyay)
Another eminent poet of this group, Sunil Gangopadhyay, reflects the mood of this generation when he devlares from roof top with eloquence in defence of poetry with such emotionally surcharged language:
For poetry alone is this birth of ours,For poetry alone, some games to play, for poetry aloneIn the chilly eve, I cross the worldAnd have a glimpse of a tranquil face.(Extract from Amalendu Bose's translation of Sunil Gangopadhyay's "Shudhu Kaviter Janya" - "For Poetry Alone"
The crisis of the period of unrest has found eloquent expression in the poems of Sankha Ghosh and Birendra Chattopadhyay. They write with seriousness to communicate the feelings of anger and frustration. Sankha Ghosh's poems bring out the pathos and the tragic sense of existence with bitter sarcasm. His "Babarer Prarthana" (Babar's Prayer) poignantly puts forth the tragedy and decimation of a generation by forces of violence. His poetry takes the role of conscience keeper at a time when the country was bleeding. When other voices were muffled, the poet's voice was heard. This has always been the tradition of Bengali poetry - the voice of conscience, the voice of truth and defiance. Sankha Ghosh says:
Here I unfold my fistAnd set free my youth,Let it flow out, I cannotHold it backHere let's haveThe inner-radial commitmentsOf our children.(Extract from "On The Way" by Sankho Ghosh)
Bengali poetry treasures very much Birendra Chattopadhyay who broke all conventions and wrote poetry of protest with gusto. His mastery over the structural varieties and rhymes of poetry together with his deep involvement with the proletariats placed him in a distinct position among the contemporary poets. He could write exquisite poetry even out of a slogan. An intensely political poet he was. He displayed poetic anger with full throated voice. Nevertheless, his diction was subtle and chiseled words he used made his poems artistically satisfying. During the sixties and seventies he raised his voice with courage and biting sarcasm against those who committed crime against humanity and oppressed the poor and the disinherited.In one of his poems, he says:
"Rice is word, rice is life, rice is consciousnessRice is sound, rice is mantra, rice is prayerRice is thought, rice is song, rice is poetryRice is fire, rice is water, star and the sun."
Poetry in any language is culture bound. The language is related to the cultural ethos of the people. Poetry is a living experience. It would be wrong to alienate poetry from the traumatic experiences of our people since independence in various fields. Now experiments are being made with new modes of expression as the time demands. During the last few decades poetry in Bengal is in continuous search of new expressions.
In the sixties, for example, there was a so called "hungry generation" of poets who challenged the main stream poetic expression. It was a form of protest by poets who gave unto themselves this hungry label. Their main attempt published through their testament of poetry was to focus the emptiness of spoken words so long practiced and challenge the so called aesthetic demand of words, of style and content. The group created quite a sensation not so by their ability to change the trend in poetry but more so by their aggressive boldness in speaking out in an unorthodox fashion on unorthodox themes.
Incidentally, that was the time when beat generation American poet Allen Ginsberg visited Calcutta and made friends with a number of younger poets. These poets wrote protest poetry with a difference. They tried to give a jolt to the prevalent notions of social values and appeal of poetry. A deep sense of alienation caused this self proclaimed rebels to take this posture.
A prominent poet belonging to the "Hungries", Malay Roy Choudhury perhaps expresses the restlessness of the generation more vividly. He wrote:
"Oh I'll die I'll die I'll dieMy skin is in blazing furoreI do not know what I'll do where I I'll go oh I am sickI'll kick all the arts at the back and go away ShubhaShubha let me go and live in your cloaked mellonIn the unfastened shadow of dark destroyed saffron curtainThe last anchor is leaving me after I get the other anchors liftedI can't resist any more, million glass panes are breaking in my cortex(Extract from "Stark Electric Jesus": Malay Roy Choudhury)
The poet's tormented soul speaks out in the time of crisis. Each decade brings its new tension and new voices are heard. The seventies were a period of turmoil. The agony of the period was reflected in the creations of the poets. The fire that illuminated the poetry of the forties found its glow again in the seventies. Poetry mirrors the agony of the time. Poetry touches many-sided experiences of life.
No two poets are similar. Nor it would be proper to expect poets to follow a set pattern. Pablo Neruda very aptly mentions in his disclosure on poetry that
"Life transcends all structures and there are no rules and conduct for the soul. The seed sprouts anywhere, all ideas are exotic; we wait for enormous changes every day; we live through the mutation of human order avidly; Spring is rebellious."(Memoirs: Pablo Neruda)
The twentieth century has come to its last decade. This has been a glorious century so far as Bengali poetry is concerned. Now is the time to look back. For poets in the language, it has been a long journey. Touching the heights of imagination and romanticism, the language of the poets has tried to reflect the day to day experience of mankind, his little hopes and joys, his triumph and tragedy. In recent times, there has been a revival of writing long poems with an element of reflection and even dramatic moments. Sunil Gangopadhyay, Amitabha Das Gupta, Nirendranath Chakravarty, Jaydeb Bose and Jay Goswami have successfully dealt with longer poems. But other forms of poetry like ballads and dramatic monologues have evaded modern poets' attention. But there has been remarkable experiment with poetic drama with modern themes. Ram Basu, Mangalacharan Chattopadhyay, Alokeranjan das Gupta, Aloke Sarkar and Amitabha Das Gupta have successfully experimented with this form of art poetry. Poets are having wider audience. Poetic dramas are also being held. Hundreds of little magazines play the mother to aspiring poets. In this age of prose narrative, poetry being a form of heightened speech has retained its away over the minds of the readers of Bengali speaking people. This is a remarkable achievement. Jibananda Das once observed that "Not every one is a poet. Some of them are.