Translated Poems: Jibanananda Das

Pritikana Karmakar
Poem 1: A Day Eight Years Ago

A translation of Jibanananda Das’s “Aat Bocchor Aager Akdin”


They say that the corpse-cutting room*

Is where he is;

Last night—when into the darkness of the phalgun1 night,

The panchami1 moon had sunk

He desired to die;


His wife had lain beside—so had his child;

There was love, there was hope—in the moonlight—yet did he see

Some wraith? Why rise from his slumber?

Or had long been sleepless—he sleeps in the corpse-cutting room now.


Is this the sleep he desired!

Neck curled in, like the plague rat with blood-froth smeared over its face

Now he sleeps in the bosom of a dark corner;

Will never wake up again.


‘Never wake up again

The profound pain of waking up

Its incessant—unyielding yoke

Never again endure-’

He was told so

As the moon sank—in the strange gloom

By the silence rearing up at his window like a camel’s neck.


And yet the owl wakes up;

The putrefying, motionless toad croaks for the gift of two more moments

At the beckoning of another dawn—perhaps with warm affection.


I feel, in the deepest bowels of the enmassed darkness,

The unforgiving hostility of the mosquito nets on all sides;

The mosquito wakes up in its unlit sangharama3, loving the currents of life.

Flies that descend on the filth of blood flit again towards the sun;

I have seen countless insects play amid the ripples of the golden sunshine.


An intimate sky, it seems—as if some radiant life

Has possessed their mind;

The rapidly quivering grasshoppers in the hands of the unruly child

Have fought death;

Yet after moonset, in the prime darkness, you went to the ashvattha4  tree

With a rope in your hand, alone;

Knowing that the life of the grasshopper, of the doyel5

Has no chance of meeting with that of man.


The ashvattha bough

Did not protest? Did the fireflies not swarm

To bask amid the fragrant golden blossoms?

Did the decrepit, blind owl not come

And shriek hoarsely: 'That crone of a moon has drowned in the flood?

Wonderful! —

Let’s catch a mouse or two now.'

Did the owl not bring these tumultuous tidings?


This taste of life—the scent of ripe barley on a hemanta6 afternoon—

Felt unbearable to you;

In the morgue, has your heart found peace

In the morgue—sweltering

Like a rat with blood-stained lips!


Listen to this dead man's tale; —Had

Never failed in courting women;

The fancies of married life

Had left no slag anywhere,

The foam of time had given a bride

Like honey—and the honey of reflection

He was given to know;

The cold pangs of penury

Had never shaken this life;


In the corpse-cutting room

He lies flat on the table.


I know—yet I know

A woman's heart—love—child—home—makes not everything;

Nor with money, fame, wealth—

But some perilous wonder

Deep within our very blood

Capers on;

Makes us tired,

Oh, so tired;

No fatigue in the corpse-cutting room;


In the corpse-cutting room

He lies flat on the table.


Still every night I look and see, aha!

The decrepit, blind owl perches on the ashvattha branch,

Rolls its eyes and shrieks hoarsely: 'That crone of a moon has drowned in the flood?

Wonderful! —

Let’s catch a mouse or two now.'

O unyielding foremother, is this day still wonderful? I will be as old as you— I will hurl

The old moon across the floodwaters of Kalidaha;

And the two of us will take off, emptying the hoards of life.



Translator’s Notes


1. phalgun: month of the Hindu calendar corresponding to mid-February–mid-March.

2. panchami: the fifth day of a fortnight in the lunar calendar.

3. sangharama: translated from Sanskrit as “community garden”; Buddhist monastery or community-dwelling.

4. ashvattha: tree species known as pipal or sacred fig.

5. doyel: oriental magpie-robin.

6. hemanta: pre-winter season.


* Das uses the words “লাসকাটা ঘরে” (“laash kata ghorey”), the words referring to the room where a corpse is cut open, and later mentions the word “morgue” separately. The translator has used the phrase “corpse-cutting room” to maintain the poet’s emphasis on the event of an autopsy.







Poem 2: At Times


A translation of Jibanananda Das’s “Majhey Majhey”


At times, taking a vacation from all other truths

And diffusing into everything like water form the sole desire;

In the confusion of the earth’s ceaseless palpitations

There is war, there is blood, recompense and sustenance

There is — the intent of pure love tainted with mistakes

Made; in this darkness, who else can be found to

Exempt the heart of all responsibility

Other than water? Everywhere there are glares

Spread on this earth and streaks of bloody ashes

Drawn by history, which it seeks to erase

With edicts of water from riverine depths;

As though close — lying easily somewhere deep within

The earth’s smooth, dark, solitary waters:

The long-gone duck and her drake.




Translator’s Notes:


An interesting exercise in translating this poem was interpreting Das’s genius in lineation. In the original poem, owing to the malleable nature of the Bengali sentence structure, several lines in the poem can be taken as ending at the last word, but we suddenly find the first word(s) of the next line an unexpected continuation. The translator has done her best to maintain this brilliant play on the poetic form by Das.





Poem 3: Dead Meat


A translation of Jibanananda Das’s “Mrito Mangsho”


Wings broken, circling downwards, it falls on the grass;

Who broke its wings remains unknown; — In the ethereal abode

Never — never would it find admittance?

It knows not; some dark, freezing land untraced

Draws it closer? It does not know, alas,

It is not a bird anymore — not a colour — that

It knows not; not envy — nor bloodthirst — but pain seized it all!

No desire — no dream — it flaps its wings once

Hoping to shake the pain off; — the silvery rain’s melody, the sunshine flavour

Is obliterated; — Obliterates its desire to obliterate pain.




Links to the original works in Bengali (public domain):জীবনানন্দ_দাশের_শ্রেষ্ঠ_কবিতা/আট_বছর_আগের_একদিন


Poet Bio:

Jibanananda Das (1899-1954) is known as one of the forebearers of modernism in Bengali literature and thought. A poet, novelist and essayist, he has contributed significantly to the vast richness of twentieth-century Bengali literature. Although never famous during his lifetime, he gained immense popularity during the turn of the millennium and increasingly attracted academic attention, which has kept growing over the last two decades. His major works of poetry include volumes such as Dhushor Pandulipi (The Grey Manuscript), Ruposhi Bangla (Bengal, the Beautiful), Banalata Sen, Mohaprithibi (Great Universe), Shreshtho Kobita (Best Poems). He has also written numerous novels, short stories and essays which have been published posthumously. Considered one of the major poets of the post-Tagore era, Das’s use of naturalistic, vivid imagery and cultural symbolism makes him an artist who has eternalised the essence of life in Bengal through his words.



Translator's bio and social media handles:

Pritikana Karmakar is a doctoral fellow of English in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee, India. She has formerly been a marketing content writer at Next Education India Pvt. Ltd. and an editor at Evelyn Learning Systems, with a specialisation in Indian K–12 education. She is currently an editor at the Cream Scene Carnival literary magazine. She hails from Burdwan, West Bengal, India.


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