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  • Temporality in the Poetry of Jibanananda Das-- an essay by Faizul Latif Chowdhury [Parabaas Translation] : Faizul Latif Chowdhury
    translated from Bengali to English by

    Temporality in the Poetry of Jibanananda Das

    Faizul Latif Chowdhury

    Written in 397 A.D., The
    of Saint Augustine
    contains perhaps one of the earliest human reflections on the nature of Time. In
    Book Eleven, he wonders, “What then time is”, before going on to confirm time’s
    enigmatic entity by himself responding, “If no one asks me, I know: if I wish
    to explain it to one that asketh, I know not.”[1] Jibanananda
    Das does not pose any conceptual question about time as such; not because he
    was never a spiritual person, but perhaps questions about time have lost their
    fascination for twentieth century man. This fundamental issue apart, time
    occurs in the poetry of Jibanananda in various forms and performs various functions.
    For one, time is personified as an omnipresent observer. The poet asserts: “Standing
    before Time, we must bear witness / To what we have done and what we have
    thought.”[2] Elsewhere
    Jibanananda observes that Time continues to be awake when everyone’s waking
    comes to an end.[3] Jibanananda
    Das essentially views Time as god;  albeit a non-religious god.


    For Jibanananda it is human existence “... on the weird
    dynamo of the earth”[4] that is
    a matter of perennial concern. It seems to him that there is no difference
    between Mahin’s horses busy chewing grass and man’s life. In the moonlit field
    of late autumn, Mahin’s horses graze with a primordial craving for grass—no
    different from Paleolithic horses. Jibanananda
    seeks a significance to human life which is more than mere biological survival
    and reproduction like that of other creatures. Conscious of his temporal
    existence he asks, “Many ages have passed useless;  / Will it be the same all through?”[5] It
    can be shown that Jibanananda’s pre-occupation with time is essentially one
    about human existence.


    Trying to figure out what time is, Saint Augustine toyed with the question: “What
    did God do before He made heaven and earth?” This denotes man’s inherent
    incapacity to conceptualize eternity. Our human concept of eternity is not
    endless;  nor is it without a beginning. Jibanananda’s
    concept of time, too, includes a ‘beginning’ and an ‘end’; — the beginning and the
    end of human existence on earth, to be specific. Reflecting on life,
    Jibanananda comes to the conclusion that life is a dot of light situated
    between two seas of darkness.[6] Obviously
    this a portrayal of human life at the individual level. However, he sees human existence
    helplessly situated between a past and a present. He accepts death as a natural
    destiny while he is haunted by the history of mankind.   


    Time is important to man because it is a self-exhausting
    resource;  man’s access to time
    discontinues with death. Sartre lamented, “Man’s misfortune lies in his being
    time-bound”. In Jibanananda there is no lamentation as such. Time is important
    to him because man lives in time as part of the same. Jibanananda emphasizes
    time because time to him is man’s lived experience. In his own capacity he is
    capable of evaluating and interpreting this experience. Frequent temporal references
    in the poetry of Jibanananda reflect his unabated anxiety about life. This
    anxiety results from his evaluation of future possibilities vis-à-vis his
    current situation which is inexorably linked to human history.  The consequence is an intense consciousness of
    self-existence—a consciousness that is grounded in an authentic perception of
    reality—reality of men’s futile existence on earth. By way of reflecting on his
    own reality, Jibanananda connects to the present surrounding him, reflects on
    the past and contemplates the future.


    Time as historicity


    Jibanananda referred to a myriad of historical places and
    figures in his poems. It started with his very first collection of poems
    published in 1927 under the title Jhara
    (Fallen Feathers) that, by and large, bears evident marks of
    apprenticeship. The collection includes a poem titled ‘Ostochande’ (Dimming
    Moon) where he compares himself (the narrator) to a troubadour from Provence during
    the Middle Ages, a robber on horseback in the Sierra Nevada of Andalusian Spain;
     he conceives his dream-girl wielding as
    much power as an Assyrian Emperor;  he
    refers to the cities of Ur and Babylon in ancient Mesopotamia, the pyramids of
    Egypt and the devotional platform of Isis, goddess of life and magic.[7] In
    another poem, titled ‘Anupam Trivedi’, there are references first to Plato, Rabindranath,
    Freud, Hegel and Marx and then to Stalin, Nehru, Bloch  and M.N. Roy.  Except for Stalin and Nehru, the rest are, one
    may argue, textual rather than historical in nature.  


    However, textual references as such are no less important in
    understanding a man’s philosophical disposition. A man is embedded not only in
    his social surrounding;  nor only he is a
    part of the human lineage. A thinking man has the prerogative of being part of
    the history of thought in this world too. Textual references in poems like
    ‘Anupam Trivedi’ indicate Jibanananda’s awareness of men’s history of thought.


    Reference to historical places and figures is an indirect
    representation of time in poetry. While the concept of time remains
    impregnable, time necessarily unfolds in space as events take place. Therefore,
    indirect reference to time as such is only legitimate. However, this also reflects
    the poet’s consciousness of mankind’s historical presence on earth. Historical
    referents indicate not only the poet’s affinity with his ancestry but also capture
    his sense of distance from the first man on earth. Indeed Jibanananda refers to
    the first man on earth in one of his poems presumably to speculate on how
    modern man differs.[8] It may
    be noted that such historicity derives from the poet’s intrinsic motivation to
    connect himself with his past, not only the immediate past, but the remotest
    past—as distant as human history ab initio.


    ‘Banalata Sen’ remains an eloquent example of how Jibanananda
    translates time into space. Although this lyric belongs to the poet’s earlier phase
    of creativity, it encapsulates much of the predominant elements of his poeticity.
    The first stanza reads as follows:

    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 Asoka

    Even further—the forgotten city of Vidarbha,

    Today I am a weary soul although the ocean of life around

    continues to foam,

    Except for a few soothing moments with Natore’s Banalata Sen.

    — ‘Banalata Sen’[9]


    As can be seen, Jibanananda conceptualizes Time essentially as
    a long human journey on earth. Dimensionality of time is captured by the spatial
    spread of mankind as well as the length of our existence on earth. First he
    refers to a voyage from the Ceylonese waters to the Malayan sea. Then he refers
    to man’s presence during the ancient regimes of Vimbisara and Asoka. Vimbisara[10] was
    the King of Magadha, a city under the Gupta dynasty, who (which??) ruled India for about
    150 years around 320 to 550 CE.  Asoka (304
    - 232 BC) was the great Maurya emperor of India from 273 to 232 BC. Finally,
    he refers to Vidarbha[11],
    an old city of ancient civilization, now in Bera in India. Notably, in the very following
    stanza, the poet compares the hair of Banalata Sen to dark nights in Vidisha[12]—a
    city of great antiquity, mentioned in the Sanskrit epics Mahabharata and Ramayana.


    Indeed, Jibanananda often historicizes human life and, in
    doing so, switches from transient individual life to the continued existence of
    mankind. The ‘I’ in the opening sentence of ‘Banalata Sen’ is not the poet but
    the voice of all mankind. References to historical epochs and places as in ‘Banalata
    Sen’ capture his consciousness about the human journey through an ‘eternal’
    flux of time. Jibanananda considers his being on earth as part of human
    existence from the very first day. ‘Banalata
    Sen’ is an autobiography of mankind.


    As far back as 1927, Heidegger drew attention to the fact
    that words and figures for temporality in Western language are primarily
    spatial in nature.[13] However,
    notwithstanding spatialization noted above, the pertinence of Heidegger’s
    observation to Jibanananda needs investigation with much care. This is because
    Time directly recurs in his poetry over and over again giving temporal specificity
    to events, figures and objects. Also, the fabric of Jibanananda’s poetry is
    studded with numerous metaphorical representations of time that form the metaphysical
    contour of his poeticity. Heidegger, it seems, is directly pertinent if one is willing
    to explore Jibanananda’s philosophy of life and examine his mode of existence.



    Specificity in temporal references


    One may justly call Jibanananda a poet of temporal
    references. He published only 167 poems during his life time while hundreds remained
    unpublished including the manuscripts of Rupashi Bangla and Bela
    Obela Kaabela
    While many poems got lost, the number of poems recovered after his death is not
    negligible. As of 2008, as many as 788 poems in total have been collected in
    different anthologies, inclusive of some drafts and unfinished ones. In over three
    hundred of them there are direct references to time in some form or other. His
    standard referential style is to mention the time of an event or object as
    borne out by the following excerpt:

    Somewhere the deer are hunted

    Hunters entered the forest today.

    I too seem to catch their scent,

    As I lie here upon my bed

    Not drowsy at all

    In this spring night.

    —‘Camp-e’ (In Camp)[15]


    There are three references to time in this short stanza. Immediately
    after, in the next stanza, there is a reference to ‘April breeze’. Except for ‘April
    breeze’ which performs more of an attributive function, the three of ‘tonight’,
    ‘today’ and ‘this spring night’ in succession point to the time of occurrence. All
    together, the poet is prone to convey to the reader the exact time of deer
    being hunted in the forest, close to which he has pitched his tent and is passing
    a sleepless night. In Jibanananda, temporal references frequently include time
    of the day and a season or month of the year. Also, long period of time is
    referred to as in the following excerpt:

    When I saw you, ten-fifteen years

    Going within the background—when
    time, hiding within

    The black clouds of your hair,
    ignited the lightning in

    Your intense woman’s face—

    —‘Potobhumir bhitore giye’
    (Within the Background)[16]


    Such time-specificity is indeed very characteristic of
    Jibanananda Das. All through his poetry there are numerous lines like “Last
    night it was an intensely windy night—a night of countless stars”[17] and
    “Tonight there is nothing left to be done anymore.”[18] It
    is rare that Jibanananda, as in the following lines, refers to time without

    That was a disjunct day we were

    Our death comes

    on a more sickly time.

    —‘Ei shatabdi shandhitey mrityu’ (Death at the Juncture of the Century)[19]


    Sometimes reference to time upgrades from a documentary to an
    attributive function. In the poetry of Jibanananda there are numerous lines
    like “Here the earth is rugged with its cracks and fissures of an April field”[20] or
    “Orange light of an autumn afternoon.”[21]  Such attributive references reflect poet’s
    awareness of his physical environment. Two cases are examined below.

    Don’t go there, Suranjana, I beg
    of you,

    Don’t speak to that young man,
    over there.

    Come back, Suranjana—

    In this night of silvery fire
    stretched across the sky.

    —‘Aakaashleena’ (Come Back, Suranjana)[22]


    Now at day’s end three
    beggars—more or less unmarried—

    are blissfully at ease.

    They take a deep breath in grey
    air—their faces are cleansed,


    street-side, in the grey breeze.

    —‘Loghu Muhurto’  (Idle Moment)[23]


    In both these cases temporal references are attributive
    rather than documentary. The romantic mood that overwhelmed the poet and led him
    to approach Suranjana is captured in the phrase “night of silvery fire
    stretched across the sky”. In the second poem, the beggars of the Calcutta street are now at
    ease because the day’s drudgery of begging is over as the day has come to an


    One of the poems of Jibanananda starts, “This autumn night
    the tale of Subinoy Mustafi
    crosses my mind”. In the following poem of Mahaprithibi[24], the
    opening line is “Now, at this winter night, shows up Anupam Trivedi’s face”. In both these cases, the poet is in a
    mood of recollection. He is in the present, reminiscing about the past. Time
    allows memory to be unfolded. The first line of the poem titled ‘Subinoy Mustafi’
    quoted above may be legitimately rephrased as follows: “Some autumn night the
    tale of Subinoy Mustafi crosses my
    mind”. Without changing the theme
    and essence of the text, it can as
    well be replaced also by, as for example: “Sometimes the tale of Subinoy
    Mustafi crosses my mind”. Let us read the whole poem—

    This autumn night the tale of
    Subinoy Mustafi crosses my mind.

    This all-knowing young man had
    the amazing power of making the cat

    and the mouse held between its
    jaws laugh all at once.

    The white cat playfully biting on
    the mouse

    or the anxious mouse being torn
    into pieces

    oblivious of how far they were
    from heaven or hell

    —would make room at a very cheap

    for the feel of living a few more

    on this turbulent earth of half
    light and shadow.

    Yet the cat would be giggling and

    until seized with a cramp

    ‘Hurrah’, would shout the mouse
    and burst into laughter

    As if to resonate with those
    rhythmic cramps.

    —‘Subinoy Mustafi’ [25]


    Does reference to a particular autumn night have any relevance
    to the rest of the poem?


    One can take a greater liberty and remove the time element
    altogether from the first line: “I shall tell you about one Subinoy Mustafi”.
    This will exclude three things: first, the reader will not be told that the
    poet is actually remembering one Subinoy Mustafi he used to know;  second, that the remembering is taking place
    one autumn night; and finally, that matters relating to this man are quite a
    story. In the poet’s composition, one can legitimately assume a subtle connection
    between the gentleman named Subinoy Mustafi and a certain autumn night.
    However, as one reads through, it becomes clear that this assumption has not
    been justified at all. In the other poem titled ‘Anupam Trivedi’, too,
    Jibanananda provides no justification for a reference like ‘this winter night’.
    The poet however provides additional information that Trivedi is long dead; — it
    is the stillness of the winter night that reminds of him.


    In both these cases, reference to specific day and time is
    neither attributive, nor documentary. Nevertheless, it is not insignificantly referential
    because the specified temporal reference, ‘this autumn night’, as explained
    above, is pregnant with meaning that is left to the reader to decipher. Perhaps
    more important is the fact such specificity infuses realism into the text. One
    can feel that specificity of time enlivens fictive figures, events and objects—renders
    them part of the daily journal;  and translates
    imagination and thoughts into experience.       


    That in Jibanananda reference to specific time or period
    often carries no direct documentary or attributive meaning can be further discussed
    with regard to ‘One Day Eight Years Ago’—one of the most celebrated poems of
    Jibanananda. The poet narrates the story of an unexplained suicide that
    apparently took place eight years ago. That the suicide took place eight years
    ago is mentioned no where except in the title of the poem. Notably it is ‘eight’
    years—not ‘nine’, nor ‘seven’. Why eight? A curious reader may inquire if there
    is any clue to a personal episode hidden in the temporal reference of the title.
    It is important to observe that nothing of the text—no word or meaning—would
    change at all if the poem’s title was altered to ‘One Day Five Years Ago’,
    replacing ‘eight’ with ‘five’. However, the title as it is, or even with the
    change in time reference, connotes a recollection. The title informs us that
    the suicide took place in the past. The poet is in the present recollecting a
    long past event. One can reasonably conclude that the poet has a sense of the
    past that works within his psyche.


    In another poem Jibanananda refers to a period of time in the
    distant future.                                                                     

    If I meet her again twenty years
    from now !

    Again in twenty years—

    Beside a sheaf of grains,

    In the month of Kartik[26]—

    When the evening crow goes
    home—the yellow river

    Flows softened through reeds, kash-grass[27] into
    the fields !

    Perhaps no grain is left in the

    There is no need for haste. ...

    —‘Kuri bochhor porey’ (After Twenty


    In this poem, the poet repeats his desire of meeting his beloved
    after twenty years and considers this long span of time with wonder. Why does
    the poet wonder? True, twenty years is long enough time to bring about any
    unforeseeable change;  however, what really
    concerns the poet is the possibility of remaining alive being fully aware of
    the suddenness of death. Here the poet is the experiencer of time who is facing
    the future, with his location mapped onto the present time. While in ‘One Day Eight
    Years Ago’ the poet explores his memory, in ‘After Twenty Years’ he travels into
    the future.


    Reference to exact time or period helps build a commensurate
    narrative environment. It infuses a sense of immediacy. It sometimes serves as
    a connectivity between metaphorical referents. As in ‘One day eight years ago’,
    temporal references also dramatize the event. It may also communicates information
    like the time of writing. However, apart from these normal functions, references
    to time build in a temporal frame of reference that is connected to other times—past
    and future, of near and far. Embedded in the present, connectedness with the
    past and future crystallizes a longitudinal perspective which facilitates authentic
    perception of the reality. Repeated temporal imageries as in the case of
    Jibanananda Das give a feel of poet’s heightened temporal situatedness. Jibanananda’s
    poetry gains much wider meaning and deeper significance by reflecting his
    self-consciousness of this situatedness, which is beyond his control. His
    poetic language which is so singular and distinctive, his philosophical stance
    which is so unique and affective, are disposed to be like that only because of
    his unstinting consciousness of this situatedness. His thematic preoccupations
    are vivified through  words, phrases,
    symbols and metaphors employed to connect to the past and future. As a result Jibanananda’s
    poems conjure up a world of truly wide dimensions in which poet’s entity
    operates and exists with the essence of universality.


    Metaphorical representation
    of time


    One most notable feature of Jibanananda’s poeticity is allegorization
    of temporality. Apart from direct references discussed above, his sense of time
    finds space in his poetry through a myriad of metaphorical expressions. However,
    all of them are grounded in one fundamental concept—human life as a journey
    through time. In a letter written to a fan in 1945 Jibanananda admitted the
    fact that his ‘consciousness of time as a universal’ flows all through his
    poetry and maintains internal consistency. Therefore the question of deviation
    from this motto is irrelevant.[29]


    Jibanananda’s temporal metaphors show a systematic pattern
    through association with known or favourite objects, entities and concepts. Hemanta—a
    short-lived season of the Bengali calendar—is a frequent referent. So are
    ‘distance’, ‘travel’, ‘tiring’, ‘coldness’, ‘death’, ‘sleep’, ‘darkness’,
    ‘grey’, ‘sky’, ‘cloud’, ‘night’, ‘moonlight’. These referents epitomize his
    perception of life. Hemanta signifies shortness, greying and falling of
    leaves—end of life. It can be observed that Jibanananda employs autumn (Hemanta)
    and winter (Sheat) metaphors almost interchangeably and without discrimination,.
    Both of the seasons essentially paint a pale picture, give a cold feeling, and
    sing a tune of melancholy. In fact, in almost every other poem, he uses autumn
    or winter imagery with amazing variations.


    In addition to numerous direct references to autumn and
    winter, Jibanananda often captures their common essence through dew drops. He
    writes, for example, “Outside, perhaps dew is falling, or may be it is the
    leaves, / or it could as well be the owl’s song;  that too is like the dew, and yellow leaves”; and,
    elsewhere, “... and yet my eyes will be veiled by blue / Death-like insomnia—a
    horned moon, empty fields, and the scent of dew.”


    Falling of dew and hooting of owl point to a nocturnal
    atmosphere—the poem is being written at night. This is an example of time being
    mapped onto night which is again being mapped onto falling of dew and owl’s
    hooting. This is how an event or object may convey temporal information. There
    is scanty information available on the daily life of Jibanananda and it is not known
    when he preferred to write or if had a favourite time for writing poems. But it
    appears from temporal references that he wrote a number of poems at night. Jibanananda
    used ‘tonight’ or analogous words and phrases in a good number of poems— ‘Wristwatch’
    is one of them where use of ‘tonight’ clearly conveys the time of composition.[30] In
    a similar fashion, in ‘Aadim Debotaaraa’ (The Primeval Gods)[31]
    the poet says: “Now I wonder  where are
    you tonight?” Another poem titled ‘Raatri’ (Night)[32]
    opens like this: “Some time ago, there—in the big edifice—a lamp was burning
    in one corner—light of extension lecture”.


    Death is another favourite referent that frequently finds
    its place in the poetry of Jibanananda. What is the nature of references to
    death in the poetry of Jibanananda? It is interesting to explore the interface
    between temporal concepts and linguistic expression. As already illustrated Jibanananda
    often engages in some form of metaphorical mapping whereby he extends the
    meaning of words: death is mapped onto sleep;  death is mapped onto darkness;  and death is also seen written on the body of
    the dead. Sometimes ‘dying’ is considered as a travel from the earth to the sky
    (“one day she left for a distant cloud” [33]).
    Also, death is personified and envisaged as an entity that brings an end to
    human life. The poet contemplates, one day Death will come and ask him to fall
    asleep on the grass under a starry sky.[34] Somewhere
    death is visualized as a sea ahead that remains to be crossed. Elsewhere it is a
    death-river which men approach only to be drowned.[35] In
    his famous poem ‘Mrityur Aagey’, Jibanananda reminds that “the grey face of
    death surfaces like a wall / vis-à-vis all our fancy desires...”. [36]


    In ‘Jiban Sangeet’ (The Song of Life), the poet suggests to
    take death easily:

    Lying upon the stretcher perhaps
    fog clogs your eyes

    Don’t worry, death is not another
    unjust light;

    How come then so many people
    embrace death,

    craving a torch like flying ants?

    Why would then men compose so
    many slokas

    to make a ladder to the heaven?

    Death today; but did not the
    matador die in Spain?

    He fought like a hero in the

    thinking himself undefeatable

    Suddenly he plunged into an
    eternal night. ...

    —‘Jiban Sangeet’ (The Song of


    He also indicates inevitability and suddenness of death by
    referring to the death of the matador in Spain. Perhaps Jibanananda is
    referring to ‘Cogida and death’ (Llanto por Ignacio Sanchez Majias), in which
    Lorca commemorates a soul-mate, a bull-fighter named Ignacio Sanchez Majias
    (1891-1934), who was mortally wounded in a provincial bull-ring in August 1934
    and eventually succumbed to death.


    For a poet who felt: “We are closed in, fouled by the
    numbness of this concentration cell”,[38]
    it was only natural that he expressed his readiness for death, as captured in
    the following lines:

    Tonight the smell of a distant
    world fills to the brim

    this Bengali mind of mine;  if one day death comes to suggest

    under a far star on unfamiliar
    grass—I’ll take my rest...[39]


    It can be argued that reference to death is poet’s one futuristic
    contemplation. In Sonnet 15 of Rupashi Bangla, the poet contemplates
    what will happen when he will “lie in the sleep of death—in darkness under the
    stars / Under the jackfruit tree probably on the bank of the River Dhaleswari
    or Chilai—.”[40]


    To Jibanananda death comes in human life as an inevitable
    destination—a destination not in the sense of fulfillment or final achievement
    but as an end of one’s own existence. It is through death that human existence
    is eventually given up. Also, death is nothing but an end of time—time allotted
    for a man in this world. So, he is fully conscious that the possibility of
    death ends all possibilities of life. Death confirms finiteness of human
    existence. Inevitability of death is the source of perpetual anxiety of non-existence.


    Jibanananda’s reference to death is significant because it completes
    his perception of life. His outlook upon death is existentialist in nature in the
    sense that he conceives human life as a meaningless journey towards death. In
    terms of Heidegger’s terminology, it can be said that Jibanananda perceived his
    existence as ‘being-towards-death’. Jibanananda’s being-towards-death is the
    case of Dasein making “... its every projection upon an existentiell
    possibility, in the light of an awareness of its own mortality”.[41] In
    many poems Jibanananda expresses yearning for sleep which reflects his
    readiness to confront death in good grace: “Now in solitude his blood longs
    for the taste of sleep”.[42] During
    his lifetime Jibanananda became reputed for his sense of history. However, one
    easily recognizes his intense death consciousness,  as embodied in a number of poems. For him
    death was not an unwanted event;  rather
    it was part of his ‘being’. Also, it seems he was fully reconciled to this


    Conscious temporal existence


    Jibanananda possessed a remarkable power of observation.
    While walking along the road he would immediately stop if he came by anything
    bizarre or grotesque and watch from a distance.[43]  In different poems he refers to places in Calcutta city where a
    respectable professor of English literature is not supposed to stray.[44]
    When he looks at Nature, he discovers that the crow which shows up on the
    wood-apple tree everyday has a broken beak;  he notices the shyness of an owl, the mists
    adhering to the wings of bats and ducks at dusk that seem to be smelling sleep
    by the pond. He hears the sound of paddy sheaf in the wind, smells the scent of
    dew. Jibanananda’s frequent reference to nature is often misconstrued to be
    arising out of his profound love of nature. Rather it is because of deep sense
    of surrounding that Jibanananda so frequently resorts to nature for many of his
    elements of metaphorical and symbolic expressions. But it cannot go unnoticed
    how immediately the nature’s element is utilized to return to his
    leitmotif—human life and existence.  


    History of mankind does not escape his scrutiny either. He
    observes that human history is one of famine after famine, war after war, one
    achievement followed by another ambition. He observes a cyclical repetition of
    events and contemplates: “Men have been born again and again / In the lifetime
    of this earth, / Have moored on new shores of history”.[45]
    Elsewhere he writes, “Men have come down these roads / Passed on—they keep
    returning” That man is born again and again on this earth constitutes a wonder,
    perhaps a puzzle, for Jibanananda. He is confused by the generational
    continuity of humankind that is tantamount to repeated staging of the same
    scene over and over again. So he wonders, “Is there any new day left anywhere?”[46]
    He mutters, “Is there anything anywhere left to be seen?”[47] He

    What else we want to know before
    we part?

    As if we don’t know—

    how the grey face of death
    surfaces like a wall

    vis-a-vis all our fancy desires;

    —‘Mrityur Aagey’ (Before Death)[48] 


    Jibanananda feels: “Our lives have crossed a span of a
    score years, year by year”.[49] He
    concludes, “Men have spent time enough on this earth”[50],
    suggesting futility of further existence. Jibanananda’s predicament as such
    gravitates around his search for a justification of continued human existence.
    When he wrote ‘Banalata Sen’ he merely focused on the weariness associated with
    our incessant human journey on this earth. Moving from there, he came to
    question if continued existence of mankind constituted any objective meaning or
    served any purpose.


    Jibanananda—a unique ‘Dasein’?


    Jibanananda takes his readers through an affective poetic
    process whereby they are transported to a sensuous, mysterious and complex
    realm of past, present and future. Metaphors are profusely employed as the
    essential tools for such an enterprise, together with unlimited images derived
    from nature. However, the most striking is the frequency of temporal references
    spread all through the body of the poetry he left for us. His sense of history
    germinated early, and soon metamorphosed into an intense sense of time. No
    wonder that the title of his last book was set by him to be Time, Wrong Time,
    Fatal Time


    Jibanananda’s abiding preoccupation is human existence whose
    significance is not clear to him. Therefore, he repeatedly questions the
    significance of human existence in this world. Analysis of temporality in his
    poetry uncovers the poet’s essentially temporalized nature of self-existence. Ultimately
    his anxiety relating to own existence extends to the question of human existence
    on earth.


    The ‘being’ of Jibanananda Das demonstrates inexorable characteristics
    of ‘Dasein’ as theorized by Heidegger in his Being and Time.[52] By
    ‘Dasein’ Heidegger refers to ‘being-in-the-world’, like Jibanananda Das, whose
    perception of existence is characterized by profound awareness of the temporal
    situatedness of the self. He is perennially haunted by his past, and he has unbeatable
    concern for the future—while he makes way around in the world of poetry.


    In Heidegger’s theorizing, the temporal character of
    ‘Dasein’ is derived from a tripartite ontological structure, namely, ‘thrownness’,
    ‘projection’ and ‘fallenness’ by which Dasein’s ‘being’ is described. To what
    extent and how Jibanananda’s understanding and interpretation of own life and own
    existence respond to these criteria is left to a later dissertation. However,
    it can be safely concluded that Jibanananda’s existentiality was unique in
    combining personal consciousness of time and history with that of humanity in



    [1] Saint Augustine, The Confessions, translated by Edward Pusey
    (1951), New York
    : Pocket Books, p.224.

    [2] ‘Shomoyer kacche’ (Standing Before Time), Saat-ti Taaraar Timir, 1947.

    [3] Sonnet 8, vide
    Chowdhury F. L. (1999). Orpokasito Ekanno (An anthology of unpublished
    fifty one poems by Jibanananda Das), Mawla Brothers, Dhaka.

    [4] From ‘Ghora’ (The Horses) by Jibanananda Das vide
    Bandopadyay D. (ed.) (1999) Kabya Songroho — Jibanananda Das, Gatidhara,
    Dhaka. p.177.

    [5] ‘Monobihangam’ vide Bandopadyay D. (ed.)
    (1999), p.418.

    [6] ‘Dui dike choriye aache dui kalo sagorere dheu’, vide
    Bandopadyay D. (ed.) (1999), pp.451-452.

    [7] ‘Ostochande’ (Dimming Moon) by Jibanananda Das,
    Bandopadyay D. (ed.) (1999), pp. 23-25.

    [8] ‘Aadim’ (Primeval), vide Bandopadyay D. (ed.)
    (1999), p.333.

    [9] My translation.

    [10] Vimbisara covered most of Northern Indian
    sub-continent, now part of Pakistan,
    and also what is now western India
    and Bangladesh.
    Vimbisara was a tall, well-built and handsome young man with a fascinating
    personality, befitting a king. He was very ambitious and had a desire to expand
    his kingdom.

    [11] Vidarbha is the north-eastern region of Maharashtra
    state of India, now forming
    two divisions, namely, Nagpur and Amravati. Sanskrit epic Ramayana has the reference of Vidarbha
    as one of the populated place or locality at that time. Kalidasa’s epic poem Meghdutam also mentions Vidarbha as the
    place of banishment of the Yaksha Gandharva. Mention of Vidarbha is found in
    many mythological stories including one about the marriage of Agastya and

    [12] Known as Bhilsa, Vidisha was a town in west-central
    Madhya Pradesh state of India.
    Nearby cities include Bhopal, Ujjaini and Indore. It is located
    east of the Betwa river. Vidisha is mentioned in the Sanskrit epics Mahabharata and Ramayana. Under the Maurya and Gupta empires, the town was a great
    religious, commercial, and political centre.

    [13] On Time and Being, translated by Joan
    Stambaugh from Martin Heidegger’s Sein and Zein : 2002, University of Chicago Press.

    [14] Six volumes and their expanded versions were
    published during the poet’s life time. Two volumes, namely, Rupashi Bangla
    and Bela Obela Kaalbela were published posthumously, out of the manuscripts
    left by him.

    [15] Translated by Clinton
    B.  Seely 
    vide Chowdhury F. L. and G. Mustafa (ed) (2008): Beyond
    Land and Time
    , Somoy Prokashan, Dhaka. p.

    [16] Translated by Ananda Lal, vide ‘Within the
    Background’, in Chaudhuri S. (ed) (1998) A certain Sense—Poems by
    Das, Sahitya Akademi, New
    . p. 84.

    [17] From ‘Hawar raat’ (Windy Night). My translation.

    [18] ‘Aaj’ (Today) vide Bandopadyay D. (ed.)
    (1999), p. 333.

    [19] vide Bandopadyay D. (ed.) (1999), p. 382.

    [20] From ‘Khete-prantory’ (In Fields Fertile and Fallow),
    translated by Clinton B. Seely.

    [21] ‘Abohoman’ (Perennial), vide Bandopadyay D.
    (ed.) (1999), p. 134.

    [22] Translated by Chidananda Das Gupta, vide
    Chowdhury F. L. and G. Mustafa (ed) (2008), p. 71.

    [23] Translated by Joe Winter, vide Winter J.
    (2003): Jibanananda Das – Naked lonely Hand, Anvil Press Poetry Ltd. London. pp.93-94.

    [24] Mahaprithibi is the fourth collection of poems
    by Jibanananda Das published in 1944. ‘Subinoy Mustafi’ and ‘Anupam Trivedi’,
    among others, were added to the expanded version published in 1954.

    [25] ‘Subinoy Mustafi’, Vide Bandopadyay D. (ed.)
    (1999) pp. 169-170. My translation.

    [26] Kartik is name of the seventh month of the
    Bengali calendar when rains recede and the chill of winter starts to blow. It
    is followed by Aghran (also, Agrahayan). Hemanata, a
    pre-winter season of short duration, comprises these two months.

    [27] shar, kash and hogla—these are
    different types of grasses mentioned in text in Bengali. 

    [28] Translated by Mary Lago and Tarun Gupta, The Beloit Poetry Journal,
    Vol. 16, No.1, Fall 1965, p. 25.

    [29] Vide Bandopadhyay D. (1997): Jibanananda –
    Bikash Protishther Itihash
    (Jibanananda—a chronicle of achievements and
    recognitions), Bharat Book Agncy, Calcutta.
    pp. 243-245.

    [30] Vide Bandopadyay D. (ed.) (1999) p. 178.

    [31] Vide Bandopadyay D. (ed.) (1999) p. 154.
    Translated by Jyotirmoy Datta, published in Kavita, International
    Number, edited by Buddhadeva Bose.

    [32] ‘Raatri’ (The Night} vide Bandopadyay D. (ed.)
    (1999), p. 367.

    [33] from ‘Shoptok’ (Septet). My translation.

    [34] Sonnet No. 43 of Rupashi Bangla, vide
    Bandopadyay D. (ed.) (1999), p.258.

    [35] ‘Ghaveer Arial’ (Profound Arial), vide Bandopadyay
    D. (ed.) (1999), p.299.

    [36] Vide Bandopadyay D. (ed.) (1999), p. 108.

    [37] My translation, vide Chowdhury F. L. and G.
    Mustafa (ed) (2008), p.118.

    [38] ‘Monoshoroni’ (Meditations), translated by the poet
    himself, vide Chowdhury F. L. and Mustafa G. (2008): Beyond
    Land and Time
    , Somoy Prokashan, Dhaka. p.

    [39] Sonnet No. 43 of Rupashi Bangla, translated by
    Joe Winter, vide Winter J. (2003), p.26.

    [40] ‘Jokhon mrittyur ghume shuye robo’ (When I’ll Lie in
    the Sleep of Death) vide Sonnet No. 15 of Rupashi Bāngla.

    [41] On Time and Being, translated by Joan
    Stambaugh from Sein and Zein of Martin Heidegger: 2002, University of Chicago Press.

    [42] My translation of 
    ‘Mohagodhuli’ (The Great Twilight), vide Chowdhury F. L. and G.
    Mustafa (ed) (2008), p.116.

    [43] Provatkumar Das: Jibanananda Das, 1999: PashchimBanglaAcademy, Calcutta.

    [44] e.g. ‘Ratri’ (Night), vide translation by Joe
    Winter in Winter J. (2003), pp.91-92.

    [45] From ‘Shomoyer kacche’ (Standing Before Time)
    translated by Sudeshna Chakravarti, vide Chowdhury F. L. and G. Mustafa
    (ed) (2008), pp. 88-89.

    [46] ‘Bishmoy’ (Wonder), vide Bandopadyay D. (ed.)
    (1999), p. 201.

    [47] ‘Onubhav’ (Perception) vide Bandopadyay D.
    (ed.) (1999), p. 375.

    [48] Vide Bandopadyay D. (ed.) (1999), p. 108.

    [49] Translated by Mary Lago and Tarun Gupta, The Beloit Poetry Journal,
    Vol. 16, No.1, Fall 1965, p. 25.

    [50] ‘Prithibiloke’ (The Universe), vide Shrestha
    by Jibanananda Das, 1956: Navana, Calcutta. p. 86.

    [51] In Bengali Bela, Obela, Kalbela. It was
    posthumously published in 1957. In the preface of the anthology his brother
    Ashokananda Das informs that the selection of the poems was made by the poet
    himself. Also, the title was given by him.

    [52] I thank Kevin Winters who helped me in crystallizing
    my thoughts for invoking the Heideggerian perspective to the analysis of
    temporality in the poetry of Jibanananda. Kevin studied psychology at the University of West Georgia
    and philosophy at the BrighamYoungUniversity.

    © Faizul Latif Chowdhury

    Published September 14, 2009

    Faizul Latif Chowdhury is a career civil servant from Bangladesh currently working as a diplomat ...

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