Selected Bengali Poetry

Presented by KAURAB

Rabindranath Thakur

Translations of Selected Poems and Songs - II
March, 2010

Prithwindra Mukherjee

In my book-shelf, there is a collection of the Bengali works - in prose and verse - by Rabindranath Thakur, complete in seventeen volumes, brought out on the 125th anniversary of the author’s birth. Popular as Robi Thakur, he lived during the last thirty-nine years of the 19th century and the first forty-one years of the 20th. At the age of fifty, Thakur is said to have translated a selection of his poems into English and published them under the signature of Rabindranath Tagore but, in spite of receiving a coveted award like the Nobel Prize in 1913, he was more of a traitor than a translator of his own poetry : quite indifferent to the aesthetic specificity of his prosody intimately married to the semantic excellence of the compositions, he wanted to avoid hurting the puritan English-reading public with the initial ornamented presentation of his poems. Fortunately the number of his works thus “translated” represents rather a small portion of his total publications in Bengali.

This is the second part of the present project.

The first part of the project can be found here .


Who will continue my work ? asked the setting sun.
The world remained speechless as an image.
The oil lamp in the corner replied : O Lord,
I shall execute the little I can.

[Kanika, “Morsels”,1899]

The Mystery

The flute admits : I cannot take any pride,
It is the breath alone that turns me eloquent.
The breath adds : I am void, I am mere wind :
Nobody quite knows who the real player is.

[Kanika, “Morsels”,1899]

The Hidden Cause

Secretly in the bower, from branch to twig,
Having set the buds to bloom, disappears Night.
On awakening, the flowers claim : We are blossoms of Dawn !
Eloquent, Dawn replies : There is no error in it.

[Kanika, “Morsels”,1899]

Restrain, Truth

Dream proclaims : I am free, I do not follow
Any injunction… Truth replies : Therefore you are vain.
Dream proclaims : You are bound with countless chains.
Truth replies : Therefore people call me Truth.

[Kanika, “Morsels”,1899]


Birth and death both are plays of this life
Just as walking consists of stepping up and down.

[Kanika, “Morsels”,1899]


What would have happened if this became that ?
It would continue to so happen, as it happens now.
If then all sorrow can be obliterated, o Brother,
Whatever is pleasure now will turn into sorrow.

[Kanika, “Morsels”,1899]

Pleasure and Sorrow

The big drops of Monsoon were hurting the lily of the valley,
She exclaimed : Whose is this dart, alas, causing me to die !
Replies the rain : benevolent I descend on earth,
To some I cause pleasure, to others it is sorrow.

[Kanika, “Morsels”,1899]

Beginning and End

End vaunts : One day all will come to an end,
O Beginning, hence in vain you boast.
Replies Beginning : O Brother, wherever it ends
Appears on the spot a new beginning.

[Kanika, “Morsels”,1899]


Had you been, O Death, merely a Void,
Instantly the universe would be annihilated.
You are form of the Plenty, on your breast and your lap
The world rocks eternally like a child.

[Kanika, “Morsels”,1899]

Absolute Truth

I am just a drop of light, yet it appears to me
I only am and nothing more exists.
Just a blink makes me realise that behind me
You are there, without beginning, O primal Dark.

[Kanika, “Morsels”,1899]


The scholar said : In the room Where my wife was asleep,
The thief entered in the night For abusing her.
I have captured him; tell me now What punishment can I mete ?
“Death” is the word that uttered Ratan Rao, the king.

Came running the messenger : The thief is our Prince…
The scholar arrested him this night And slew him this morning.
Here is the imprisoned scholar. What punishment shall I mete ?
“Free him” were the words that uttered Ratan Rao the king.
[Katha, ‘Tales”, 1999]

In Disaster

Even though the evening is approaching leisurely,
Following a signal, all music seems to have stopped,
Even though there is no companion in the endless sky,
And though a languor seems to pervade all limbs,
In silence, a great consternation counts its beads,
All directions are shrouded in a veil,-
Yet O bird, O my bird,
Do not, O blind, fold your wings right now.

This is hardly eloquent with the murmuring woods.
The sea is swelling with a roaring hardly nascent,
This is no bower reddened with fragrant blossoms,
The undulating foams are swaying with the gurgling surge.
Where is that shore bedecked with burgeoning leaves and buds,
And that nest, that all-sheltering branch ?
Yet O bird, O my bird,
Do not, O blind, fold your wings right now.

As yet the prolonged night remains ahead,
The sun is asleep on the far away setting-peak.
Withholding its breath, the universe -
Immobile - reckons the hours in its solitude.
On the far away horizon the meagre crescent of the moon
Has just swum across the shoreless dark.
Yet O bird, O my bird,
Do not, O blind, fold your wings right now.

Stars tending their fingers at the top of the sky
Look at You askance, making signs.
And below, impatient and profound,
Death rushes towards You in numerous waves.
Who are they with folded hands on the distant shore,
Call in supplication : “Come, O come !”
Yet O bird, O my bird,
Do not, O blind, fold your wings right now.

Fear no more, no more obsession or tender bonds,
No more hope, hope is vain, deceit.
No more speech, no more weeping fruitlessly,
No more home, nor any flowery bed.
The wings alone remain, remains the vast span of sky
Dense with darkness, deprived of the guidance of Dawn :
Yet O bird, O my bird,
Do not, O blind, fold your wings right now.

[Kalpana, ‘Imagination’, 1900]

On burning Madan

What have You done, O Hermit, by burning Five-Arrows
To besmear the universe !
More and more poignant the air heaves his pain,
His tears roll down the sky.
The dirge of Rati is ringing throughout the worlds,
Weep all the cardinal points.
Even in Phalguna under an ominous sign
The earth starts up before swooning.

I wonder what suffering in an intense passion
Rises from the lute of my heart.
A maiden cannot fathom the meaning of a message
Pervading the earth and the sky.
What words come murmuring from the twigs of the Vakula
And from the humming bees,
A fiancé that the zenith-bound sunflower greets,
What thirst goads the water-fall !

Whose is this robe that is swaying in the moonbeam,
Whose eyes are mute in the azure !
Veiled in light whose face do I behold,
Whose steps fall soft on the grass-bed ?
Whose is this caressing scent maddening mind and soul
Winds around the heart like a creeper !
What have You done, O Hermit, by consuming Five-Arrows
To besmear the universe !

[Kalpana, ‘Imagination’, 1900]

Good bye

Hence I must leave.
The moment is nigh, now
I must cut all ties asunder.
Overflowing, the water keeps on clapping
Wakes up the tumult of uproaring,
Shivering in impatient din,
The moment is nigh, now
I must cut all ties asunder.

Ruthless I am, stern, severe,
I am merciless today.
Before long, on every side
Menacing the trumpets will blow.
Closing your eyes you are asleep,
Quivering in a dream of separation,
Waking up on the forlorn bed
You will stare weeping in the morning.
The moment is nigh, now
I must cut all ties asunder.

Dawn-rose your youthful lips,
Your eyes compassionate,
You have not finished composing nectar
With your loving speech.
The birds shall fly across the ocean
Forsaking – behind - their cosy nests
From the vast ether, time and again,
They all are calling me.
The moment is nigh, now
I must cut all ties asunder.

Once the universe invites me,
Who is mine, who is not?
Once my dispenser wakes up in me,
Where shall I find my home?
Comfort, for what ? Life, ever fleeting !
Now arises the war-song,
Immortal death with bleeding feet
Keeps on dancing triumphantly.
The moment is nigh, now
I must cut all ties asunder.

[Kalpana, ‘Imagination’, 1900]


At the sight of a deep green cloud in the blue sky,
A pair of moist dark eyes come to my mind :
The lips compassionate,
A silent gaze
Poignant in supplication
Before parting…
At the sight of a deep green cloud in the blue sky.

It rains incessantly, with lightning flash
Maddened the wind sings in the woods.
Somewhere across my being
A moaning lingers,
Someone’s voice
Comes echoing in my heart
At the sight of a deep green cloud in the blue sky.

[Kalpana, ‘Imagination’, 1900]


Even without understanding, I have understood You :
I ignore how,
I cannot find an end to its significance
Having once understood Your message.

Who is it through all my breath in a glimpse,
My perception and pathos and thought-impulse
Permeating my body and my mind
Brings intimation from You ?
Even without understanding, I have understood You
I ignore how

I have received the tidings that
Your realm extends from sphere to sphere
Once that I discovered inside my heart
The capital o the world.
Even without understanding, I have understood You :
I ignore how

Where in my solitude and intimacy of heart
I have come to know You,
There all stands still and mute
Words seem to be vain.
Even without understanding, I have understood You :
I ignore how.

[Naivedya, “Offering”, No.9, 1901]

Joy, Eternal

A dense apprehension shrouded in dark
Is engulfing the world,
In its midst, beyond apprehension dwells
A firm conviction.

In the storm of words and the dust of debates
Blinded intelligence desperately gropes
The conviction remains firm within,
Without a shade of fear.

Hundreds of ordeals on the path of life
Roam in a whirlwind,
In its midst, peace reigns unperturbed
Under the shade of an immortal tree.

Poisonous arrows shoot incessantly -
Censure, loss, death and separation -
Eternal, Joy remains quiet in its trance :
It knows no destruction.

[Naivedya, “Offering”, No.11, 1901]

My Pride

I shall get rid of all my pride
Save my pride of You,
I shall inform all, the very day
I receive the dust of Your feet.

How shall I make a secret of it
As soon as Your call reaches me?
All my speech and all my act
Will but reflect Your worship.
I shall get rid of all my pride
Save my pride of You.

Whichever honour my deeds may deserve
Will then disappear far,
Save Your honour in my body and my mind
Will ring in unison.

Even the passers-by from their way
Will scan Your message looking at my face
When I shall sit unmindful
On the window-sill of the universe.
I shall get rid of all my pride
Save my pride of You

[Naivedya, “Offering”, No.13, 1901]


However far I may wander in the radius of Your infinity
There is no sorrow no death even there is no separation.

Whenever I consider myself to be distinct from You
Death assumes the form of death, sorrow a well of sorrow.

Whatever there is exists at Your feet, o Completeness,
There is no fear (save mine own), therefore I keep on shedding tears.

Filth on conscience, weight of the world vanish in no time
If I can erect at the heart of my life the true image of Yourself.

[Naivedya, “Offering”, No.14, 1901]


I live on so little, therefore
A loss means a loss :
Even losing a morsel drives
My mind to lamenting.

Like the river-bank, in vain,
I try to cling to its currents,
Striking my heart, one by one
The wavelets disappear.
I live on so little, therefore
A loss means a loss :

If I could surrender at Your feet
All that I lose and that remains,
There would be no loss, all would exist
Magnanimous in You.

In You shine so many suns and moons,
No atoms and molecules ever get lost :
Will not my lost treasures of trinkets
Find refuge at Your feet?
I live on so little, therefore
A loss means a loss.

[Naivedya, “Offering”, No.17, 1901]


To whom You confide the banner, as well
You give the strength to carry it,
Give the right devotion to bear
The great endeavour to serve You.

Therefore with all my heart I want
Suffering as well as the end of suffering,
I long for no deliverance to shun
The boon of pain from Your hand.
Pain shall become the jewel of my crown
If You grant devotion as well.

Set me to action as much as You wish, only
Spare me to forget You
And keep my mind beyond the bondage
Of vain superfluity.

Clasp me as close as You may wish,
Leave me ever open to You,
Even in dust keep me immaculate
In the dust of Your feet.
Forgetful in the chain of becoming
Let me not forget You.

Wandering along the groove You have chosen
Let me reach Your feet.
May all my toil carry me towards You
Who quench all weariness.

Difficult is the path across the dense world
Blazing in partings, sacrifice and grief :
I have carried the burden of death throughout life,
Let life prevail on my death.
When the day is done let me find in my nest
The feet of the Refuge of this creation.

[Naivedya, “Offering”, No.20, 1901]

The Pulsation

The chain of life that undulates day and night
Down the veins of my body, that life
Keeps on rushing to conquer the universe,
That life in unique patterns of tempo and rhythm
Dances along the world; that life, stealthily,
Circulates rejoicing through the pores of the earth
In millions of vegetation blossoming
From buds to flowers, and round the years
In the world-wide heaving of the ocean of birth and death
Sways in endless ebbing and rising tides.
I feel that life infinite in all my limbs
Is making me ever nobler.

That great pulsation from epoch to epoch
Goes on dancing in my veins this day.

[Naivedya, “Offering”, No.26, 1901]

That Heaven

Where the spirit is fearless, the head upright,
Knowledge without barrier, the walls of the house
Do not hold the earth circumscribed and petty
Within their courtyard, day in day out,-
Where speech can burst forth from the fountain-head
Of the heart, where in an unrestrained flow
In all directions, from land to land
Currants of deeds surge out
In multiple and thousand realisations :

Like mounds of desert sand, where trifling rites
Do not stifle the flow of discernment
Decimating virility; where always
You guide all action and thought and rejoicing,-
Mercilessly striking blows with Your own hand, O Father,
Wake India up to that Heaven.

[Naivedya, “Offering”, No.72, 1901]

You have taught

O India, you have taught the monarch
To give up crown and sceptre and throne,
To don the poor’s garment; you taught the hero
To pardon an enemy, step by step, in a lawful battle,
To spare arrows, forgetting victory and defeat.
You taught the activist – in a spirit of inner union –
To surrender to the Divine all craving for fruits.
You taught the house-master to extend his home
To neighbours, to dear friends, to guests, to orphans.

You have fastened enjoyment with control of oneself,
You have radiated misery with chaste renunciation,
You have sanctified riches through righteous deeds,
You have taught to place all becoming before the Absolute,
By giving up self-pleasing in happiness or woe.

[Naivedya, “Offering”, No.94, 1901]

A Lesson

We have lost that intimate wealth within.
Thus we are cowed by shame; our limbs
Are helplessly bitten by famished misery;
Thus the sparse cloth of the Brahman no more protects
His honour; bereft of his force of meditation,
He counts only the beads; his sanctity
Is reduced to mere unintelligent and insignificant habits.

There is no more strength in the heart of serenity,
A mass of inertia; his religion listless
Weighs on him, stiff and rigid.
Therefore in flocks we keep on rushing
To usurp the forsaken garments of the West
To hide our ancestral misery. A vain attempt, O Brother,
All attire is shameful without intelligence.

[Naivedya, “Offering”, No.96, 1901]

All poems translated from original Bengali by Prithwindra Mukherjee



Dr. Prithwindra Mukherjee (b. Calcutta, 1936) is a poet, historian, musicologist, translator (Bengali↔ French↔ English), author of more than 50 books, 12 LPs/CDs, 2 Documentary films. He has done more than 100 hours of features broadcast on Radio-France. Awarded a French Government Scholarship (1966-1970) and Fulbright Scholarship (1981), Prithwindra has also served as Research Fellow, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris (1981-2003); Lecturer : University Paris III-INALCO and University of Paris-XII (1974-1981); Chevalier in the Order of Arts & Letters (2009). Bengali readers remember him for his translations of Albert Camus, St-John Perse, René Char. Prithwindra also writes in French. His French poetry has been translated into about a dozen languages.

Selected Bengali Poetry
Selected Bengali Poets Generation-1930
Selected Bengali Poets Generation-1950
Selected Bengali Poets Generation-1960
20th Century
Last Quarter

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