Top 10 Modern Bengali poets you must read
Poetry occupies a special position in Bengali Literature. It has a long legacy with the art reaching its zenith in the early 20th century at the hands of poets like Rabindranath Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Sukanto Bhattacharya and others. Contemporary Bengali poetry continues to maintain that aura of excellence due to the availability of a large number of Bengali literary magazines, and most importantly because of the fact that Bengali poetry anthologies are available at an affordable price, thus enabling it to maintain its large readership. Given below is a list of ten most influential Bengali poets of the post- Tagore era: – (The list does not include the Hungry Generation poets although their contribution to Bengali literature is phenomenal, because of the fact that they did not believe in the mainstream literary canonization)
A believer in ‘art for art’s sake’, he was one of the foremost writers to have introduced Modernism in Bengali literature. His works are marked by his technical precision and perfectionism and is influenced by works of Rabindranath Tagore and poets like Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot and Rainer Maria Rilke. His most important contribution to Bengali poetry lies in the publication of two literary magazines, first, Pragoti (Progress) which was started in 1927 and continued till 1929. The second magazine was entitled Kavita (Poem) which was started in 1935, after he migrated from Dhaka to Kolkata (then Calcutta) and was in print for 25 years.
Famous works: – Bondir Bondona (Praises of the Captive), Konkaboti, Charles Baudelaire O Tnaar Kobita (Charles Baudelaire and his poetry); a translation of the poetical works of the French poet Charles Baudelaire.
Awards and accolades- Sahitya Akademi Award (1967) for his verse play Tapasi O Tarangni (Tapasi and Tarangini), Padma Bhushan (1970), and Rabindra Puroshkar (1974) for his collection of poems Swagato Biday (Welcome Farewell).
2. Jibanananda Das
He is a poet of nature. Bengal’s beauty with its lovely flora and fauna finds apt description in his poetry. He had a unique lyricism, and was a romantic as well as a classicist. One of his most famous poems is Banalata Sen dedicated to his muse, the poem abounds with the distinct imagery of nature:-
“Hajar bochor dhorey ami poth hantitechi prithibir pothey,
Shinghol- shomudro theke nisheether ondhokarey moloy- shagorey
Onek ghurechi ami; Bimbishar- Ashokar dhushor jogotey
Shekhane chilam ami; aro dur ondhokar bidorbho nogore;”
(It has been a thousand years since I started trekking the earth
A huge travel in night’s darkness from the Ceylonese waters
To the Malayan sea
I have been there too; the fading world of Vimbisara and Ashoka
Even further- the forgotten city of Vidarva)
His other poems which have attained a cult status in Bengali poetry include Banglar mukh ami dekhiechi (I have seen the beauty of Bengal), Abar ashibo firey (I’ll come back again), Suchetona, and others.
Famous works:- Dhushor Pandulipi (Grey Manuscript), Banalata Sen, Mohaprithibi (Great Universe).
3. Shakti Chattopadhyay
Shakti Chattopadhyay is one of the best lyrical poets after Rabindranath Tagore. His verses feature his unique experimental style, and distinct imagery. His most famous poetry anthology Jete Pari Kintu Keno Jabo (‘I can go but why’) deals with the theme of death; the poet being caught in the crossroads of his impending demise and his desire to continue living. One of his widely read poems is Abani bari acho? (Abani are you home?) which displays an almost surreal imagery of the dark night whose silence is disturbed by the incessant knocking at the door by a visitor waiting for some unknown, probably absent person named Abani:-
“Duar ente ghumie ache para
Kebol shuni rater koranara
‘Abani bari acho?’
Brishti pore ekhane baro mash
Ekhane megh gabhir moto chorey
Poranmukh shobuj nalighash
Duar chepe dhorey
‘Abani bari acho?’”
(The neighbourhood lies in sleep with doors closed
But I keep hearing the night knocking at my door,
‘Abani, are you home? ‘
Here it rains all the twelve months
Here the clouds roam like cows
Here the eager green grass
closes in on the door,
‘Abani, are you home?’)
Famous works: – Hey Prem Hey Noishobdo (O Love, O Silence) Jete Pari Kintu Keno Jabo (I Can Go but Why); winner of the Sahitya Akademi Award, 1983, Dhormeo Achi Giraffe’eo (In Faith and in Giraffe).
4. Sunil Gangopadhyay
Sunil Gangopadhyay wrote poetry primarily in the beginning of his literary career and therefore they are characterized by his youthful passion and love. He is popular for his series of poems dedicated to Neera. A lot of speculations have been made and questions have been asked to the poet about the real identity of his muse to which of course he maintained a stern silence. However, critics have pointed out that probably Neera symbolizes womanhood as a whole in its fineness and beauty.
“Neerar oshukh holey Kolkatar shobai boro dukhkhe thakey
Shurjo nibhe gele por, neon’er batigulo hothat jwolar agey jene ney
Neera aj bhalo achey?”
(A pall of gloom descends over Kolkata when Neera falls ill
As the sun sets, the neon lamps before being alighted, ask
Is Neera keeping well today?)
Sunil Gangopadhyay established Krittibas, a literary magazine dedicated to poetry, in 1953. The magazine was instrumental in publishing a number of experimental, avant- garde works of Bengali poetry.
Famous works: – Hothat Neerar Jonno (Suddenly for Neera), Shada Prishtha Tomar Shange (With you Blank Sheet), Eka Ebong Koekjon (Alone with Some People).
Awards and accolades:- Bankim Purashkar in 1983 for his novel Sei Somoy (Those Days), Sahitya Akademi Award in 1984 for the same work, Ananda Purashkar in 1989 for the novel Purbo Pashchim (East West), Sheriff of Kolkata (2002).
5. Alokeranjan Dasgupta
His poetry is characterized by technical and thematic innovations. Apart from being a poet he is also a translator and has translated poetry from Bengali to English, German and French, and vice versa. He was also a Professor of Comparative Literature at Jadavpur University, Kolkata from 1957 to 1971.
Famous works: – Marami Karat (The Mystical Saw), Alo Aro Alo (Incessant Light), She Ki Khunje Pelo Ishwarkana (Did they find the God’s particle).
Awards and accolades: – Ananda Purashkar (1985), Rabindra Purashkar (1987), Sahitya Akademi Award (1973).
6. Shankha Ghosh
Shankha Ghosh’s poetry exhibits his intellectual depth and philosophical vigour. One of his famous poem Babar’er Prarthana (Babar’s Prayer) has a tone of self- deprecation where the poet blames himself for the pervading ethical erosion and hence asks for his destruction:-
“Amari hatey diecho eto shombhar
Jeerno kore okey kothay nebe?
Amake dhonghsho kore dao Ishwar
Amar shontoti shopne thak”.
(You’ve blessed me with so much riches
Where will you accept his corroding self?
Destroy me O Lord
Let my children be in their reverie.)
His recent works such as Gotadeshjora Joughor (Burned Homes all around the Country) display a sense of cynicism and despair, which has stemmed out of the poet’s disgust at the tumultuous political state of affairs of West Bengal.
Famous works: – Murkho Boro Samajik Noy (A Fool not Social), Mukh Dheke Jae Biggaponey (The Face gets hidden amidst Advertisements), Babar’er Prarthona (Babur’s Prayer).
Awards and accolades: – Sahitya Akademi Award (1977), Rabindra Purashkar (1989), Desikottam (1999), Padma Bhushan (2011).
7. Subodh Sarkar
A satirist, Subodh Sarkar is famous for his powerful and angry verses. He is the editor of Bhashanagar, a bilingual culture magazine. He is also known for his bold stand in his poems especially on issues concerning politics and human rights. One of the most famous anthologies in this genre is his collection of poems called Manipur’er Maa (Manipur’s Mother) written in the aftermath of protests by Manipuri women, who in a naked state with banners bearing “Indian Army rape us”, protested against the rape of a Manipuri civilian Thangjam Manorama by the Assam Rifles, a paramilitary unit of the Indian army in 2004.
“Nogno uthey dnaralo amar Manipur’er Maa
Ei mayer du chokh theke chokh peyechi
Ashirnokh bhasha peyechi, peyechi sa re ga ma,
Nogno uthe dnaralo amar Manipur’er Maa.”
(Naked stands up my mother of Manipur
I’ve had vision from her eyes
My language, and my tunes
Naked stands up my Mother of Manipur).
Famous Works: – Bhalo Jaygata Kothae (Where’s the Better Place), Manipur’er Maa (Manipur’s Mother), Dwaipayan Hroder Dhare (Near Dwaipayan Lake), Dhop’er Chop (Bluffs).
Awards and accolades: – Shakti Chattopadhyay Binodon Vichitra Purashkar (1997), Sahitya Akademi Award (2013) for Dwaipayan Hroder Dharey.
8. Mallika Sengupta
Mallika Sengupta is also characterized by the fierceness of her verse like her husband Subodh Sarkar. A Feminist by her ideological postulation, she questions the patriarchal nature of history in her works. Her famous poem Freud Ke Khola Chithi (An Open Letter to Freud) is a scathing satire on Sigmund Freud for his chauvinistic ideas, especially his concept of ‘penis- envy’.
“Prokriti shodoy noy
Purush shodoy noy
Shontan shodoy noy
Meyeder proti sudhu Freud shodoy!
Ei doya ke cheyeche! Chitrangada! Joan of Arc!
Simone de Beauvoir na Shyamal Draupadi!”
(The nature doesn’t care
Men don’t care
Children don’t care
Only Freud cares about women!
Who’s asked for your kindness! Chitrangada! Joan of Arc!
Simone de Beauvoir or Shyamal Draupadi!)
She deals with the theme of marginalization of women in History in her fiery poem Cheleke History Porate Gie (While teaching my son History):-
“Purush ekai chilo Bhogoban ar Bhogoboti
Purush jononi chilo purush jonok
Purush shwoyong shur ebong bnashori
Purush shoyong lingo ebong jorayu
Amra history theke erokomi jante perechi.”
(Man alone was both God and Goddess
Man was both father and mother
Both tune and flute
Both penis and vagina
As we have learnt from history.)
Famous Works: – Amake Sharie Dao Bhalobasha (Heal Me, Love), Kathamanobi (Women Talk), Cheleke History Porate Gie (While Teaching my son History).
Awards and accolades: – Sukanto Purashkar (1998), Bangla Academy Award (2004).
9. Joy Goswami
Mellifluousness is the primary beauty of Joy Goswami’s poetry. His forte is that he chooses simplistic words which are otherwise considered as not being suitable for poetry. He deals with the hopes, struggles and dreams of the lower middle class people. Love also forms a major theme of his poems. Love is seen in diverse states ranging from unrequited love to that which is blasphemous and profane. One of his most famous poems Pagli Tomar Sange (With You O Crazy Girl) exhibits the youthful dreams and desires of a lover towards his beloved.
“Shondhebela jhogra hobe, hobe dui bichana alada
Hopta hopta kotha bondho modhdho ratey achomka milon
Pagli, tomar sange Brahmmachari jibon katabo
Pagli, tomar sange adam eve katabo jibon”.
(We’ll quarrel in the evening, and separate our beds
We won’t speak for weeks but make love suddenly
in the middle of the night
Mad girl, I’ll spend a life of a saint with you
Mad girl, with you will I spend a life of Adam and Eve).
Famous works: – Aj Jodi Amake Jiggesh Koro (If You Ask me Today), Jara Brishtitey Bhijechilo (All those who got wet in the Rains), Pagli Tomar Sange (With You O Mad Girl).
Awards and accolades: – Ananda Purashkar (1990, 1998), Sahitya Akademi Award (2000), Banga Bibhushan (2012).
Popularly known as Srijato, he is more famous amongst the younger readers of Bengali poetry. His poetry is experimental in style where he employs a number of innovative techniques such as use of words from other languages, allusions to elements of popular culture, as well as poems which are untitled. In fact, his latest collection of poems Aami aar William (I and William) has all the poems untitled. This anthology also sees the employment of a postmodern literary technique, where William is the alter ego of the poet, and they both embark upon a journey where they come across Jesus Christ, Albert Einstein, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Begum Akhtar and others. His poetry is usually set upon an urban background and deals with themes such as urban alienation, unrequited love, pangs of unemployment, etc. An untitled poem given below exemplifies the beauty of his verse rendering:-
“Prithibir shat shatta ashchorjoi khub boro.
Choto ashchorjo bolte ei kobita
Ja ami tomake ditey pari.”
(All the Seven Wonders of the World are huge.
The smaller wonder is this poem
Which I can gift you.)
Famous Works: – Uranta shob Joker (All those flying Jokers), Coffee’r Namti Irish (Irish Coffee), Aami aar William (I and William).
Awards and accolades: – Ananda Purashkar for Uranta shob Joker.
P. S. The verses from Ababni Bari Acho have been translated by Shakti Chattopadhyay, Banalata Sen by Faizul Latif Chowdhury and those from Cheleke History Porate Gie have been translated by Mallika Sengupta. The remaining parts have been translated by the author.