Nishikanto’s English poems

Dear Friends,

The late Nishikanto Raichowdhury (1909-1973) was one of the greatest mystic poets not only of Sri Aurobindo Ashram but of Bengal as well. In his early years, he was a student of Kala Bhawan (Santiniketan) where he was one of the blue-eyed boys of Rabindranath Tagore and Abanindranath Tagore. He joined the Ashram in 1934. Sri Aurobindo was an ardent admirer of his poetry and had called him the ‘Brahmaputra of Inspiration’. He is also known as the lyricist of some of Dilip Kumar Roy’s best-known songs in Bengali.

Nishikanto mostly wrote in Bengali but for a very short period he had attempted to compose verses in English. These poems, along with translations of his other Bengali poems into English by Dilip Kumar Roy, were published under the title of ‘Dream Cadences’ in 1946. In his foreword to ‘Dream Cadences’, Kishor Gandhi has written: ‘These poems have a value to those who are interested in the process of poetic creation in as much as whatever poetic merit they have is solely due to the poet’s innate sense of rhythm and word-music…It would seem that the poet, in his inner being, is in direct contact with some far-away Land of Felicity where the Muse of Poetic Beauty reigns supreme and the unearthly strains of music and the magical hues of that land flow through him unhindered in large streams of haunting melody and captivating vision…Nishikanto’s success in the field of English poetry would appear to suggest that it is not impossible for an exceptionally gifted and powerful poet to surmount altogether the need of knowing the metrical technique by sheer force of his inborn and intimate sense of the spirit of rhythm and subtle word-music; the invisible Spirit of Word-Beauty with which he is in direct contact would itself provide him with its intrinsic body-forms, its shapes and structures of visible embodiment.’

 Today, on the occasion of Nishikanto’s 102nd birth anniversary, we take the opportunity of sharing with you some of his original compositions in English.

With warm regards,

Anurag Banerjee

Chairman,

Overman Foundation.

                       

              CLAY-PETAL

 

I am the clay-petal of a mortal flower-birth,

     I am the barren brownness of desert-desire,

Through my dim pores is fluted the music of earth,

     My breast bears the candle of a glow-worm fire.

 

I am a pilgrim-poet on the ways of the world,

    My poems are surging upon Time’s ocean,

Around my life’s stone-torpor ages have swirled,

    Far-calling fountain voices of deep emotion.

 

When the divine death-victor Will comes near,

    My sleeping soul remembers an ancient duty:

My dark dungeons, light-festivalled, disappear,

    And heavenly jewels jingle in my earth-beauty.

Crowned with pure joy, each clamouring atom stills:

At the feet of the timeless Beloved my body thrills.

 

 

              O MY HEART

 

Like a star in the sky, like a flower in May

    You bloom, O my heart, in the deep,

Like a shell which bears the pure pearl play

     In an ocean of vigilant sleep.

 

You have your colours, you have your brush

    And a canvas eternally wide;

In a trance you dance with the luminous hush

    Bearing Time’s silent tide.

 

You are moulding the clay to an angel’s eye,

     And moving the thorn as a pen

You change the black veil with a golden dye

    And break the blind dark den.

 

Consciousness grows in the Mother divine,

    You laugh on her lap in your dream;

Your thoughts are bright with her red sun-wine

    And your words in her silver moonbeam.

 

Sleep, sleep, O my bird, in your glorious nest

    Like a pearl in the deep’s delight,

Like a star of the sky in its radiant rest,

    Like a flower on a timeless height.

 

 

         THE ARTIST ALMIGHTY

 

From where come the shimmering dots of emerald green

    On the dead-red canvas of a stone-stricken soil?

Such honey-sweet plenty flowers from what source unseen—

    Here, where earth’s form is a crude poisonous coil?

 

Here I have seen a straight brush-stroke, iron-ash-grey,

    A long winding of palm groves horizon-stretched,

Branches of star-triangular rhythm with heaven-sapphire play,

    Steel-strong sinews by deathless spirals caged.

 

O thou, the Almighty Artist of royal reality,

    Teach me thy technique of miraculous transformation,

By which I can lose my flesh-born dull triviality

    And gain release for my life, gain realisation.

 

Give Thy colour-fountained luminous brush of power,

Let bloom through my hard granite a heavenly flower.

 

 

                    THE YAWNING WEST

 

A darkness masked as light its angry motion hurls,

    The lost dark sun shines like a hungry vulture’s eye,

A serpent way from horizon to horizon swirls

    Its flow of aimless, dreamless travellers. Destiny

 

In a soul-paralysed wakefulness sets world-life to swim

    On a sweet-coloured poison-deep. Demon shades

Recast into dire splendours through human faces gleam

    In a flesh-festivalled glory: shimmering flame pervades

 

From the hard black-fire mouth of mortality and men’s gaze

    Is blind with burning undelight; Hideously nude,

The body moves, a myriad-mooded carnal blaze

    In a death-desiring day, the devil’s prostitute.

 

On the western shore the breaking old world roars,

    The vampire witch her all-devouring dragon face

Opens where the evening scene of evil floods and pours

    The blood of an old sun.

 

                                           Here a pure crystal grace

Crowns the horizoned east far from that tossing sea;

     New evolution here unrolls its tranquil white—

Mooned consciousness.

 

                                                     O embodied fair Infinity,

     Mother of a divine creation, touch with heavenly Light,

Release the earth from cruelty of the demon-day.

    Thou hast taken up my fate, queen of the radiant throne,

In thy high cradle of star-truth; I laugh and play

    And nestle in thy heart’s sapphire hyaline. An unknown

Joy hushes now my soul: it carries still sublime

Words, thy celestial necklace jewelling endless Time.

 

 

                                DESCENT

 

My consciousness flows like a wide and glowing river;

    The gloomy tide is now a splendour-gleam,

Thou hast come and thriven in me, O rhythm-giver,

    I brim with thy full-mooned creative dream.

 

            In my bosom’s secret core

            Thou hast opened a radiant door

            And through it vast melodies pour:

A gold descent with heavenly murmur, an angel-stream.

 

The world of clay bears a gorgeous change

    While round her neck I wreathe a sun-garland

Of amaranth glory. Far enchanting fiery and strange

     Starry notes flame through each earthly strand.

 

             O trivial creatures of flesh

             In pleasure’s dim painful mesh,

             I shall make you bright and fresh

And free, with the marvel touch of a mighty lustrous hand.

 

The pale gray and black dry thorns upon the way

Under my tread blossom to beaming rays,

The universe is a lyre that tunes a play,

Fragrant with my heart’s rosary of godly grace.

              I have shattered the hard rocky prison

              Like a spring my spirit has risen

              And flooded the desert horizon;

My life illumines the death-dark night of time and space.

 

 

                       TRIPLE TREMOLO

 

A mystic land, a world of magic wonder;

    A picture painted with subtle light and shade;

A white moon lotus of deep and delicate splendour;

    A rainbow romance—a rose of passion-red.

 

A land of light with a delightful play;

    A festival manifested with heavenly claim;

Descending showers that make to blossom the clay

    An eveless and a sleepless sunfire flame.

 

A land of earth with many laughters and tears

    Churned and cherished in the bosom of a yearning source,

Through the mortal game immortal experience bears

    And pulls at the sky with giant cords of force.

 

O painter and poet-musician of my human birth,

I am tuned in thy tremolo of dreamland, heaven and earth.

 

 

                       MERMAID ANGEL

 

The dull gold of departing day dissolves in the west,—

    A barren evening’s nut-brown atmosphere

Fading to shadow slowly on the horizon-crest;

    With a wan dream of dead sun I am walking here;

 

Before me moves an ocean of vastitude sapphire

    With wavy curves cream-soft and Chinese-white,

And from the Unfathomed rises a vision of silver-fire—

    Shimmering with grace of a crystal God-light

 

A mermaid angel of beauty and movement came,

    Revealed the pearl-purity of your divine deep

With star-rising bright eyes and a moment-whim

   Of jewelling play and rhythmic delightful sweep.

 

It changed time, transformed the day’s departing tear.

Turned to crystal my dull nut-brown atmosphere.

 

 

                 THE NIGHT OF SILENCE

 

Hark, the voice of silence, call of the midnight bird:

    The tune shakes the root of the dumb sleep earth,

It climbs above spreading its echoes through the stirred

     Ways of heaven and jingles with stars of marvel-mirth.

 

The veil of mystery slowly lifts with the ethereal sounds;

    The unknown beauty of night opens to the solemn vast

Infinitude: the dream-rose garland of love surrounds

    The maiden on her velvet couch—an expectancy cast

Like lightning among the blind foldings of cloudy time;

    The delivered consciousness of the imprisoned thirst for light

Brims now with song of celestial streams, the joyous chime

    Glows with an inner moon-rise melody, gold and white,

Drenching the desert-dark of the world; O Immortal lore

Of mortal birth, like the bright-winged bird with you I soar.

 

 

               ETERNITY’S PLAYMATE

 

My consciousness is caught by a giant power,    

     And I am drinking heavenly vats of wine;

My moments now are starring Time’s black tower,

     My thought ripples on the infinite crystalline.

 

An unhorizoned moon of peacefulness

    Beams her white widening calm in my soul-centre:

A new sun thrills, creating golden days,

    Moved by the magic brush of my heart’s painter.

 

O force beyond all speech, joined is my fate

    To your everlasting ecstasy of fire;

For I have grown eternity’s playmate,

     Tossing my diamond-music of desire.

 

World after world melts to a spirit-shower:

My consciousness is caught by a giant power.

 

           

          DANCE ON DEEP STILLNESS

 

A red sea swings

      On the crystal deep,

The rainbow sings

      On a white wide sleep;

   The greenwood bowl

   To horizon-goal

       Flows with a wine of golden streams

 

The flame-lives dance

       On a still life-fire,

And soul-songs glance

        On a mute sapphire;

      Births are all dews

     Of human hues—

         Bubbles of wine with desire-dreams.

 

But who is the deep

And white wide sleep?

       The giant hushed with intoxication

       Is drinking the dreams of his bubbling creation.

 

 

                     SEALED TO SILENCE

 

The night is sealed to silence: on lonely seat

     I feel One motionless mute in my heart; deep

In inexpressible thoughts, the white moon-lit

     Omniscient dreams in his wide illumined sleep.

 

Songs curve like slow billows on a soundless sea,

     The profound and solemn call of a face unseen

Opens veils of unfathomable mystery,

      And the fire-bosomed visions of eternity lean

 

To the nude and flaming beauty of a new world;

     Time’s charioteer wheels on with wordless force.

A myriad virgin fancies have flowered and pearled

     In the poet, — the moment-moulder; the crystal source

 

Of the Creator flows through the stillness of burning stars

And my soul drowned in their silence his numberless creations bears.

 

 

                       VIOLET DRINK

 

A blind background of nothingness; a bare

       Horizonless desert covered up by a vast

       Skyless mist: with a sudden violent blast

It cracked; and the leap of a red, fiery glare

 

Revealed from the dense mist a blazing mountain

       Of crimsoned snow and ranges of purple light

       Kissed by a cobalt firmament; leaving the height

A violet river streamed from its luminous fountain.

 

Through the valleys’ labyrinth of emerald green

       There rose a form of beauty and immaculate grace—

       A silver halo round the moon-white face—

And towards me slowly came. With her hands of sheen

 

She held the violet drink in a golden cup before

My yearning lips. I drank; the vision was no more!

 

                            *

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12 Comments

  1. Prithwindra Mukherjee said,

    March 24, 2011 at 8:12 am

    As an inquisitive and premature adolescent, I was member of the inner circle of Nishikanta. 24 March had been for us a great festive day, thanks to the warm hospitality of his cousin, Aparna Devi (whom I called Pishimâ).
    This morning I was thinking of those years of innocent cheerfulness, a while before your reminder reached me. DREAM CADENCES has always been a precious volume accompanying my nomad life.
    Mubarak ho !
    Prithwindra Mukherjee
    Paris

  2. nirmalya said,

    March 24, 2011 at 8:20 am

    Beyond my scope of understanding and appreciating things. Even then I could always look back on him as one of A.G’s understandable ‘ P R I Y A B R I T T A’ ( The loved circle). Something beyond reason, in general terms..The oceanic feeling of Ramakrishna. Thanks.

    Nirmalya Mukherjee
    Kolkata

  3. Geeta Debnath said,

    March 25, 2011 at 6:18 am

    thanks for sharing so rare a collection.

  4. Lakshman R Sehgal said,

    March 26, 2011 at 6:15 am

    Besides being a great poet, Nishikanto, as I remember him growing up, had a great sense of humor. A charming sweet man who did not know have a mean bone in his body! walked with slow, measured steps.

  5. Purnendu Ghosh said,

    March 27, 2011 at 4:09 am

    Dear Anuragda,

    These are really precious collections which show greatness of the Poet. These will be the source of inspiration to all of us. Thanks for sharing these with us.

    Love,
    Purnendu
    Delhi
    27-03-2011

  6. Arun Sundar said,

    May 30, 2011 at 6:33 am

    The King of Kings
    By
    Nishikanto

    —————–
    The King of kings has made you a king,
    Your sceptre gave, your throne of gold,
    Men and fair maids for retinue,
    Your swords of sheen, your warriors bold,
    Your crown, your flag, your victor-pomps,
    High elephants and steeds of pride,
    The wise to counsel, the strong to serve,
    And queens of beauty at your side.

    To me He gave His alms of grace,
    My little wallet full of songs,
    His azure heavens for my robe,
    His earth, my seat, to me belongs.
    My sleeping room is His wide world,
    Planet and star for bulb and lamp:
    The King of kings who beggared me
    Walks by my side, a comrade tramp.

    Translations, Sri Aurobindo p.571

    See this line..
    >>His earth, my seat, to me belongs.<<

    Such equipoise has given Nishikanto a place in Sri Aurobindo's world. But what he created is for no man to see.
    See this poem by Sri Aurobindo…

    Invitation
    ———-
    With wind and the weather beating round me
    Up to the hill and the moorland I go.
    Who will come with me? Who will climb with me?
    Wade through the brook and tramp through the snow?
    Not in the petty circle of cities
    Cramped by your doors and your walls I dwell;
    Over me God is blue in the welkin,
    Against me the wind and the storm rebel.
    I sport with solitude here in my regions,
    Of misadventure have made me a friend.
    Who would live largely? Who would live freely?
    Here to the wind-swept uplands ascend.
    I am the lord of tempest and mountain,
    I am the Spirit of freedom and pride.
    Stark must he be and a kinsman to danger
    Who shares my kingdom and walks at my side.

    Sri Aurobindo, Collected Poems p.39

    With Love,
    Arun Sundar

  7. Srikant Jivarajani said,

    May 30, 2011 at 6:34 am

    Some of us visited Kobi-da ( Nishikanto), just a day before he left his earthly abode in 1973. Even his sister said, ‘what ever you want to ask, ask today, afterwards it will not be possible.’ I still remember his voice and the power that he conveyed during that talk though he looked ill.

    He quoted freely from his poems esp. the ones Sri Aurobindo had appreciated and commented upon.

    He also quoted from Chandidas at one stage, –
    ‘ Ore O chashi, Banga-basi …’
    Q – Many of the Sadhaks have seen during pooja -time, in the meditation-hall, Mother as Durga. Have you seen Mother in any other form ?
    Nishi – Na bhai, ami sara samay shei budhi Ma-ke-i dekhechi. Kintu Surya jakhun utthe tar Alo are Abha amara anubhab kari, temani ami ma ke sab samay anubhab kare Chhi.

    Before speaking these last words, he straightened himself, then he spoke these last few words with such power, that they have ever remained etched in my memory, like words that keep on ringing now and then, whenever I am to myself.

    Yours Sincerely,

    Srikant.

  8. Aju Mukhopadhyay said,

    May 30, 2011 at 6:35 am

    Dear Srikantbhai-
    very vividly and impressively recollected as if to help us to see him again-
    Best –
    Aju Mukhopadhyay

  9. Gayathri said,

    May 30, 2011 at 6:36 am

    Dear Srikantji,

    Thanks for sharing this.

    Can you please translate in English what was said here?

    Nishi – Na bhai, ami sara samay shei budhi Ma-ke-i dekhechi. Kintu Surya jakhun utthe tar Alo are Abha amara anubhab kari, temani ami ma ke sab samay anubhab kare Chhi.

    That will be very helpful.

    best regards,

    Gayathri.

  10. Srikant Jivarajani said,

    May 30, 2011 at 7:52 am

    Dear Gayathri-ji,

    Nishi – No brother, I Have always seen Her as our old Ma ( Mother). but when sun rises in the East, its light and glory we feel, in the same manner I have always felt and experienced Her presence.

    Yours Sincerely,

    Srikant.

  11. Srikant Jivarajani said,

    May 30, 2011 at 7:53 am

    Dear Aju-da,

    After speaking those memorable words, he as though withdrew and said, –

    Kobi – E bar ami ektu shobo ( Now, I will sleep awhile).

    Little did we realise the meaning of that short commonplace sentence till the next day, – and lo he snatched a sleep; there was something unususal , but whatever part of my mind had observed, had kept it in the limit of the usual, ” As men are in the habit of doing, ignoring the unusual, until it seizes and surprises them.”

    It was the same thing with Gangadhar-ji, when he simply said, ” My time has come.”

    I have seen such memorable moments with Pranab-da and Nolini-da too ! Little and small things which in themselves are nothing and yet it is these trifles that make them great !! After all, ” Trifles make perfection”, says, Michel Angelo.

    Yours Sincerely,

    Srikant.

  12. jumu said,

    October 6, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    This effort is praiseworthy


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