I have been invited to talked about poet Jibanananda Das during the Jibanananda Festival organised by the international organisation called Saudha. The event was hosted by the acclaimed and international writer called T M Ahmed Kaysher (Bangladesh – UK).

Jibanananda Das Festival hosted by Saudha @ Rich Mix (London). Photo by David Lee Morgan

At first, I wasn’t sure if I should talk about a Bengali poet as I wasn’t confident enough to talk about Jibanananda Das. However, it’s been a while since I have been joining, on regular basis, events organised by Saudha — about more than 3 years to be more precise —, and I now feel a bit less than an outsider of the Bengali’s literary & Arts Scene in the UK. So, I decided to go ahead and share my views on Jibanananda Das.

They also asked me to talk about him in relation to Latin American literature movements, and after reading various books, I came across similarities between the poets Jibanananda Das (Bangladesh) & Alejandra Pizarnik (Argentina). I found they had a similar perspective in theme, specifically in relation to the tensions between life and death. Pizarnik passed away after she committed suicide, and Jibanananda Das is believed that he committed suicide as well (but this is not a confirmed fact).   

Also, they both invoked distances between cities and times[1]. As literary critic Clinton B. Seely explains, Jibanananda Das ‘moved frequently, drawn back and forth between Calcutta as cultural centre and his native East Beng’. Similarly, Alejandra Pizarnik travelled first from Buenos Aires to Paris and stayed there for 4 years, and later on, she travelled to New York with the Guggenheim and Fulbright Scholarship. She returned to Paris and then, she moved back to Buenos Aires where she finally died.

In addition to this, both poets seemed to be quite honest in both their works and ways to live, as well as both being introverted and shy in their personal lives. Both of them experienced some difficulties to socialise which caused both of them some issues that sometimes are reflected in their poems.

All these characteristics that both shared shaped the way they conceived subjectivity and perception in relation to reality. Following critic Biswarup Das, the relativity of truth in Jibanamda Das’ poems is the consequence of human inability to transcend perception. This can be seen in the following verses of one of his poems:

I live amongst all, yet alone Am I
the only one to be blinded by the light
Puzzled by the many ways opened before me?*

As Biswarup Das explains,

The ‘light’ signifies the relative truth of mundane existence. The relativity of this truth is the consequence of human inability to transcend perception. His puzzle results from his reflection on life and the world. He is unable to find any ultimate reality here. Being unable to bridge the gulf between the perceptible world with ‘many realities’ and the truth behind this perception, the whole appearance sometimes becomes ‘nothingness’ (Near and Far, l. 8) to him. That is why he feels that though man ‘has lived long on earth,’ his ‘shadows on the wall/Seems only to signal/Death, loss and fear’ (ll. 4-7). He does not attempt any longer to go beyond his epistemological limit, for any such attempt on his part, he is sure, would carry him ‘from the void to greater voids,/From darkness into the further dark

In Alejandra, on the other side, subjectivity and perception is a way to escape from the darkness of reality. These can be seen in the following verses:

In your feet
where swallows die because they are
shivering awaiting the future
and yet, you can still tell
that there are waves from the ocean
moistening those few words
that make life worth to be lived.

Following the last 2 verses of her poem, there are a few words that make life worthy. Even though Alejandra suffered from depression and anxiety during her entire life, this powerful aspect of the words which we can find in her first poems became gradually pale through her writing as she progressed in her career:

You cry below your crying
You open the box of desires
And you are richer than the night.
But today with solitude being so big
even words commit suicide.

We can observe in Pizarnik’s later works that ‘words’, from what we can deduct from this last poem I used as an example, words are now not enough to contain the suffering of her loneliness and reality. Language became not enough to contain reality. Similarly, in Jibanananda’s poems, there is truth behind perception, and sometimes truth is void and void is darkness. In both poets we have a sense that reality is darker than our own perception and subjectivity. 

On the other hand, we can find in both of them a tension between life and death. For example, in the following poem, The Smell of Far Worlds, by Jibanananda Das, he states:

Somewhere death will come to me,
Cover me with the gentle fragrance of grass
At dawn, or at night
Or a bird at mid-afternoon
Will take me to its bosom,
Cover me like grass;
The night sky will blossom into blue stars.

For Biswarup Das this could be seen as absurd, he asks the question: ‘why someone will die happy and feeling blessed? But he thinks the answer is in the way the poet works on the theme of relative truth. From this view, we understand that Jibanananda would not state something lineal and rational in relation to perception because that could limit our knowledge and consciousness’. That also can be connected to the poem “One Day Eight Years Ago” by Jibanananda Das (1899–1954) which is a poem on individual suicide and also about large-scale killing. As Manas Ray states,

The suicide of the protagonist without any apparent reason is juxtaposed in the poem with the ceaseless brutality and killings characterizing the world of nature. […] Death is a constant presence in Jibanananda’s poetry; his language is marked by death. But here in this poem, language imbibes the very nonrelationality of death—as such, it is language-contra-language. In our line of thought, negation—far from being a way of achieving reconciliation—is uncontainable and illimitable, always spilling over, always open to possibilities of being otherwise, its trail running in negating, almost inevitably, negation itself, gesturing an aleatory renewal of a space for the political

Death, this way, opens new paths while negation creates a new space:

It’s to the morgue he had been taken, they said.
The moon had set, darkness had reared its head again
Last night, the fifth night of the moon, when sudden he felt
A rush of desire for death.
When I am dead,
Shall I ever come back to earth again?

If it so happens that I do,
Let me return on a winter’s night,
As the frail, cold flesh of an orange, half-eaten,
Set on a table, by the dying man’s bed.

Similarly, in the case of Pizarnik, death is also relative because we only access it through language and perception:

Death is a word.
A word is a thing, then dead is a thing,
Like a poetic body from the place I was born.
You will be never be able to make a circle around death. You can talk, but only about ashes;
Talk, but from the bottom of the river in which the death is singing.
Credit: clickTRC (Tarik Rana)

For both poets, reality is accessible only through perception and language. Besides both poets’ views on reality, they were both courageous and brave in their thoughts and they confronted the consciousness’ limitations by thinking outside the box.    

[1] A Poet Apart: A Literary Biography of the Bengali Poet Jibanananda Das (1899-1954) by Clinton B. Seely

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Gaby Sambuccetti (Argentina) is an Argentine born, UK-based writer. She holds a BA in Creative Writing from Brunel University (London), she is a Latin American & Spanish Literature Teacher (Argentina) and she is currently studying a MA Modern Languages, Literature and Culture at King’s College (London) at which she has been awarded with the Von Schlippenbach PGT bursary and with the Cosmo Davenport-Hines poetry prize for 2022. She is the founder and director of La Ninfa Eco, an international organisation with a team of writers from Europe, the UK, the US and Latin America. She was the former co-director of events at the Oxford Writers’ House (Oxford, UK) a hub that used to bring Oxford Universities and local communities into dialogue through creative writing projects. In 2019, She has been invited to the House of Lords (UK) to be part of a discussion about writing and freedom of the press. She is the author of 2 books in Spanish published in Argentina, Glasses Love to be Broken (Argentina, Baobab, 2010), To the Knot for What it Took Away (Argentina, De los Cuatro Vientos, 2012). Also, she published a book in the UK called The Good, the Bad & the Poet (El Ojo de la Cultura, London, 2020). She has been part of different anthologies: Torre Latinoamericana (México, 2021), Wizards, Werewolves and Weird Engines (London, Brunel University, 2018), Other Voices Poems 40 Years of The Cure (London), Liberoamericanas: 140 poetas contemporáneas (Spain, Liberoamerica, 2018), Poesía Deliberada (Argentina, Textos Intrusos, 2013), Letters on Paper, Bilingual Anthology (Argentina, De los Cuatro Vientos, 2013), among others. She has collaborated on different literary projects and magazines such as La Mascarada (Mexico), El Humo (Mexico), Liberoamerica (Spain), Editorial Aquitania (Cuba/Mexico). Her books, reviews, collaborations appear in different magazines, anthologies and literary projects from Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Germany, Bolivia, the US, Mexico, Chile, Spain, Bangladesh, India & the UK.


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