Essay on Golden Treasury of Indo-Anglian Poetry

Another poet who deserves mention is Harindranath Chattopadhyaya, brother of Sarojini Naidu. His first book of poems The Feast of Youth published in 1918 was praised even by Aurobindo and all the subsequent poems and plays (1922-1961) make certainly a very impressive creative output.

Though he is said to have been ‘spasmodically veering between Aurobindonian mysticism and Marxian materialism” his poetry is essentially romantic and sensuous with such memorable flashes of poetic fancy like “He is throbbing in the crystal magic centre of my dreams” “a glimmering peacock in my flowering flesh” and “Every note is crushed to silent sorrow in the song-throat”. One of his poems in Masks and Farewells (1961) brings out the double paradox of all existence, namely that “Life is but Death unmasked, and Death is but Life unmasked”. Birth, no less than death is a mystery as is borne out in the lines,

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The new-born infant brings

In its closed fist

centuries, winters, autumns, summers, springs;

Indestructible mystery,

Ineluctable history of I exist!

It is interesting to note that a poet who, like his sister Sarojini, poured forth melodious verses carrying with them the raptures of romantic gleams and visions could also touch heights of mysticism and philosophy bordering at times on existentialism. He has left behind him love poems too which are equally enchanting. The poetry of Harindranath Chattopadyaya, like the poetry of Aurobindo, Tagore and Iqbal raises some fundamental questions pertaining to the relationship between poetry and philosophy, rather between the poetic mind and the philosophical mind.

The following comments made by K.R. Srinivasa Iyengar on Surendranath Dasgupta’s The Vanishing Lines (1956) are very pertinent and revealing;

The Vanishing Lines is a collection of thirty two lyrics (mainly renderings from his own original Bengali) that opens to our gaze the whole panorama of the soul’s landscape, thereby enriching our understanding and infusing in us a sense of restrained, if also purposive, elation. Surendranath is attracted to Nature, but even more to the transcendent reality behind the flux of colourful appearance. The music of ineffable silence is sweeter far than the melodies that actually reach the ear. The unseen intuited vision is more satisfying than what strikes the naked eye. What we see or hear is implicated in the changing unreal, but Reality is for always, and it is the changeless one. Surendranath is prone to see the universe in himself and himself in the universe.

(Indian Writing in English, p. 609)

These observations offer, besides a useful commentary on Surendranath’s poetry, a few useful clues for one’s response to many Indian poets of his generation who wrote in English as the inheritors of two traditions, the English Romantic tradition and the Indian mystical and philosophical tradition. In the insightful comments which follow in the next few pages Dr. Iyengar provides valuable clues to our understanding of all philosophical and mystical poetry in the right perspective and they explain Harindranath’s poetry as well.

We need this same approach in the study of a number of other poetical works such as Nirobaran’s Sun Blossoms (1947), K.D. Sethna’s The Secret Splendour (1941) and The Adventure of the Apocalypse (1939) and many of the works of Nolini Kanta Gupta and Dilip Kumar Roy. Most of these poets may be called ‘Aurobindonians’ who drew their inspiration and ideas from Sri Aurobindo adding to their writing their own mystical and spiritual experience.

Most of them being Bengalis, they also have their roots in Bengali Bhakti literature and write under the profound influence of the Indian mystical and philosophical traditions. Mention should be made too of Ananda Acharya whose Snow Birds (1919), Vsarika (1923) and Arctic Swallows (1927) are in the same tradition. J. Krishnamurti, the author of The Immortal Friend had also written poetry of a similar kind drawing again from his own rich spiritual experience.

In fact, there are quite a good number of poets and a large number of poetical works falling within what may be called the Aurobindonian tradition and it is interesting to note that this has made for a parallel trend in the post-Independence literary scene. Though opinions may differ regarding the qual­ity of these poets as poets writing in English, it should be re­membered that most of them produced poetry which is authen­tically Indian and that they are intellectuals, mystics of no mean order.

They cannot even be considered as the ‘satellites’ or followers of Aurobindo because as Indians they have only fol­lowed the same kind of mystical and spiritual urges and impul­sions which many great seers and poets of India have followed. It may not be considered fashionable today, to go back to these poets, for they are not ‘modern’ in the sense in which Ezekiel, Ramanujan, Parthasarathy or Kamala Das are modern but they deserve to be studied carefully as poets who strike a note of authenticity in the sense that their poems have adequately crystallised from experiences which may be called mystical, spiri­tual and therefore more truly Indian.

Two other poets who deserve special mention in any ac­count of the Indian English poets of the older order are Joseph Furtado and Armando Menezes. Both were Goan poets who lived in Goa when it was a Portugese territory. Furtado’s A Goan Fiddler (1927) carried with it a preface by Edmund Gosse and it was very favourably reviewed even in The Times Literary Supple­ment.

The following lines from “A Fiddler” are typical of Furtado:

A Fiddler am I of fifty-and-three,

I go fiddling up and down

Both countryside and town;

The town swells they call me Fiddle-de-dee

But the country folk are all kind to me.


I take my tunes from the birds on my way

And some from the winds that blow

They are all the tunes I know


Furtado’s poems are mostly songs which make for a nos­talgic return to the past and recollections of places, people and events. They have an apparent simplicity which perhaps blinds the modern reader to many of their inherent virtues. (Indian Writing in English, p. 629). Furtado’s poetry celebrates nature and rural life and like the poetry of many of his contemporaries it shows “the marriage of Indian processes of poetic experience with English formulae of verse expression (David Me Cutchion in “Indian Poetry in English” in Considerations Ed. Meenakshi Mukherjee, p.19)

It is the same delicate sensual tenderness, an adolescent wonder at beauty and grace which one finds in many other poets of the yesteryears like Armando Menezes and V.N. Bhushan though the latter two are a little more sophisticated than Furtado. Bhushan was in fact a lyric poet who with his remarkable vision “gave English poetic forms a new charm and freshness by adapt­ing them to the expression of Indian imagination and mystical thought” (Vivian de Sola Pinto). Many of these poets including V.K. Gokak and P. Seshadri and D.C. Dutta happened to be professors of English while some of them were bi-lingual poets like Tagore who began writing in their own mother tongues and either translated them in English or adopted English as the language of their poetic expression.

As stated earlier, a number of poets who wrote in the first few decades of the twentieth century had their roots very much in the older tradition and shared many characteristics with the earlier poets. It is for this very reason that these poets seem to have been set aside as unworthy of serious attention and do not figure in most critical surveys and discussions on Indian poetry in English.