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This review is taken from PN Review 155, Volume 30 Number 3, January - February 2004.

A WARM MODERNIST JIBANANANDA DAS, Naked Lonely Hand: Selected Poems.
Translated from the Bengali by Joe Winter (Anvil) £8.95

The Bengali poet Jibanananda Das (1899-1954) was a contemporary of Tagore, but while the latter is considered a traditional poet, Das (or Jibanananda, as he's commonly known) is a highly individual modernist. He is, however, a warm modernist, the poems are intensely emotional, and frequently disturbing. How well do they work in English? Bengali poetry is considered difficult to translate, its metres and cadences hard to reproduce. Joe Winter's concern, expressed in his illuminating introduction, has been to keep to the rhyme and metre of the original, as far as possible, yet to be true to `the poet in oneself'. There is no evidence of a smoothing out in the poems, but rather a faithfulness to Jibanananda's idiosyncrasies, the long journeying lines, the sense of fragmentation, his use of combined and dialect words. I first encountered Das in Poetry From Bengal (Forest Books, 1989) translated by Ron D.K. Banerjee, and it would be interesting (though there's not the space here) to compare Banerjee's shorter-lined, lucid, less intricate versions.

This Selected is in itself a journey from the celebratory sonnet sequence `Bengal the Beautiful' to the torment of the later poems. The sonnets resonate with a Hopkinesque rapture: `Bengal past loveliness lovely / he saw'. The landscape is a companion, a lover personified: `Bengal's rivers fields bhant-flowers, her anklet bells, wept / in harmony.' This is intimate poetry, assuaging loneliness, bringing the reader magically close to the countryside of the poet's homeland. The troubled end of Das' poetic ...


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