Bengali poet Jibanananda Das picked up on Tagore’s legacy by not trying ‘too hard’

JIbanananda Das is considered one of the forerunners of modernist poetry in Bengali literature. Considered an avant-garde at the time he was writing, he was one of the most talented figures of Bengali poets after Rabindranath Tagore. Although Das is now a canonized literary figure, he never received his due during his lifetime and, like most poets, struggled with both poverty and lack of recognition. His literary career, which also saw him sell insurance to survive, is a story of great interest, especially when seen in the context of his untimely death and brilliant legacy.

Tagore’s death left a void in Bengali and Indian literature that could not easily be filled. In fact, the influence and stature of the Nobel laureate was such that it was considered a matter of pride to emulate him in any way possible – and literature was one way to do this.

It was at this time that Jibanananda Das came onto the Bengali literary scene. Sudeshna Chakravarti writes, “He was the most talented of the post-Tagore group of Bengali poets who had honed their sensitivity to the frequencies of modern Western poetry and at the same time were keen to blend it with native cultural elements.


Read also : I asked Tagore to write an essay for me so I could be the best in my class. We got 4 out of 10


‘Windy Night’ – inspired by the cosmopolitanism of Tagore

In 19th century Bengal, Tagore dominated literary circles to the point that it was almost impossible for an educated Bengali to think beyond him. His works, which covered the ideas of both East and West, had established an insurmountable benchmark. The fact that Jibanananda Das managed to carve out his own space in the corpus indicates something that tips the scales in his favor: he didn’t try “too hard”. He created his own poetry, the one that made him the recognized poet he is today.

Das’ poetry is littered with references to history, including mentions of Babylon, Phoenicia, and Assyrria in poems like “Windy Night”. Blending the local and the global, he created a poetry that few could match.

Jibanananda Das stuck to his exclusive domain of poetry and distinguished himself from contemporaries of his time, including the famous poet Kazi Nazrul Islam.

Bengal as his eternal “home”

Jibanananda Das was born in Barisal, Undivided Bengal on February 17, 1899. His grandfather and father were both part-time preachers in the Brahmo Samaj, which also influenced his writing. Her mother, Kusumkumari Das, wrote poems, some of which have also been published.

The time spent in Barisal strongly influenced Das’ poetry, and he often used images of rural Bengal in his poems. His keen interest in literature and poetry made him give up job opportunities in Punjab and Assam. Instead, he chose to fight poverty in Bengal because that’s where his poetry would find “home”.

From the Bengal famine to World War II to being a professor of literature, Jibanananda Das’ poetry has been influenced by a range of ideas. Fervent follower of the Tagorian aesthetic, he completed and developed it with his originality. He too was fascinated by the world, its events and its history as much as he was touched by the nuances of the reality on the ground. Essentially, he was a poet of the romantic world, but his heart beat to the rhythm of Bengali tunes.


Read also : Why Bengal must learn from Tagore’s words on resolving conflicts from the “Hindu point of view”


Nationalism, or lack thereof

Throughout his life, Jibanananda Das was criticized from many quarters for the poems he wrote. While some question his depiction of the female breast in “Banalata Sen,” others find the lack of nationalism and Marxism in his works reprehensible. This made him stand out in an unflattering way – Bengal was an intellectual hub with longstanding leftist currents. Das’ “originality” also cost him.

Romantic, Jibanandana Das’ nationalism was not characterized by violence or hyperrealistic imagery. His nationalism, if any, stemmed from the way he viewed the landscape of Bengal, and his resistance was through the use of metaphors that were quintessential to the place he grew up and refused to leave, even for a better lifestyle.

“I Shall Return to This Bengal” is the best example of his love for his homeland in which he sought to be reborn as part of its landscape:

“Once again I will return, enamored of the rivers, the fields of Bengal, to this

Green and benevolent land of Bengal, moistened by the waves of Jalangi.

Jibanananda Das was ironically killed in an accident when a high-speed tram knocked the poet unconscious on Rashbehari Avenue in South Kolkata on October 17, 1954. He succumbed to his injuries a few days later, leading many to believe that it was a suicide. It is hoped that he will return in his next life to his beloved Bengal as he always wanted.

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)

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