The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bengali poetry took a decisive turn in the post-Tagore era. A crop of new poets in the Twenties broke radically away from the Tagorean brand of mystic spiritualism and idealized romanticism, seeking to find a new poetic language to reflect their existential angst in a society fast moving towards industrialization. The modernizing trend of Bengali poetry gathered momentum in the late Thirties and the whole of the Forties, with World War II and rise of fascism in the global context and famine, unemployment, refugee problems and the Partition in the local context. The spread of Marxism and the setting up of the Progressive Writers’ Association in the late Thirties ensured that poetry could be used as a tool for changing society. The “progressive writers” attacked Tagore as a product of bourgeois culture.

Broadly speaking, post-Tagore Bengali poetry followed mainly two trends — non-Tagorean and anti-Tagorean. Buddhadeb Bose belonged to the first category. In her introduction, Ketaki Kushari Dyson competently captures the changing perspective of Bengali poetry while Tagore was still living: the bard, though not quite approving of what came to pass as poetry, constantly tried to relocate himself in the altered poetic landscape. She discusses the circumstances which prompted Bose’s migration from Dhaka to Calcutta in 1931, and the role of Bose’s contemporaries of the Kallol era like Jibanananda Das, Amiya Chakravarty, Sudhindranath Dutta, Bishnu De et al and of the poetry quarterly, Kavita, which was published and edited by Bose for nearly 30 years in shaping the future course of Bengali modern poetry. The “intermingling of the foreign and the native” in his poetic vocabulary was Bose’s way of coming to terms with a diasporic consciousness. Bose’s influence is apparent on the younger Krittibas group of poets.

But even Dyson falters occasionally. In her urge to establish Bose as a nature-loving poet, she has forgotten Bose’s intellectual intimacy with Charles Baudelaire, whose poetry certainly influenced Bose’s later poetic articulations. Dyson does not give details of the books from which the poems have been selected for translation here, nor the basis on which they have been selected. For reasons best known to the translator, the titles of the books have remained untranslated. For reasons best known to her, the titles of the books remain untranslated. The comparison between Jibanananda Das and Bose, which seeks to project the latter as a more versatile poet, is too skin-deep to be convincing.

These apart, it must be granted that the translations have been ably done, balancing loyalty to the text with maintenance of the felicity of poetic style. From the selection, it is not too difficult to trace the progression of Bose’s poetic imagination — from Bandir Bandana (1930) through Je-Andhar Alor Adhik (1958) to Swagotobiday O Anyanyo Kavita (1971). Dyson writes about the very real problems of preserving the original line-lengths in English: though lines are often fragmented and new lines are interpolated in translation, the “syntactic sinew” of the lines is mostly unimpaired thanks to translator’s creative intervention. One of Bose’s important essays on language and poetry, written in protest against the report of the government of India’s language commission, which makes an interesting study when read alongside Walter Benjamin’s article on the philosophy of language, has been included.

One last question, though. Why should the poet’s name be spelt “Buddhadeva” Bose' Did the poet by any chance spell his name this way in English'

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