Relevance of Samar Sen

Aloke Ranjan Dasgupta

There is no point in saying that a sudden mention of the name of a poet in passing establishes his/her relevance. In our talks, often the name of some poet(s) comes up, thanks to the association with ideas. This does not again imply that such poets are not in the main relevant, and we, in our talks, give them a little importance. In the subject of relevance in literature, there are perhaps some such eccentricities lying dormant. It is quite possible that owing to the momentary wishes of professors or critics, or to the whims of some powerful, commercially successful publisher, some not so important writer is made to appear brightly before the public. But it is a prevarication of truth to claim that they conform to the transparent yardsticks that appear invincibly before an ardent reader of literature.

Death is perhaps another category, which suddenly makes a poet relevant. The euphoria over Jibanananda would not perhaps have started had he not been the victim of a tragic accident. It is a matter of pleasure that after his death, his popularity grew continuously; that sudden incident was not its basis. It is also a matter of pleasure that Birendra Chattopadhyay had made his place in the minds of the people before death overtook him. Yet it may be argued like an axiom that death as if seeks to determine the time when a person can be made popular.

Samar Sen possibly was aware of it. One day, in the Kavita Bhavan of Buddhadeva Bose, which was like a site for the poets' pilgrimage, he told us that he hardly cared for popularity, because he had not written anything that could be called popular. While pronouncing this, he however knew that he was established in the minds of numerous readers. Thereafter, during the Naxalite period, we saw how meritorious students gave him warm recognition. Yet in one or other camps of readers of poetry, there is already a buzz regarding his relevance as a poet.

Thanks to Keats, we have come to know that no poet could say when he would be incapable of writing poetry. Gotfreid Ben has informed us that five great poems certainly entitle a poet to the epithet of greatness. Judging by that yardstick, Samar Sen is a poet of high stature.

After his death, a session of reciting poetry was organized, focusing on him. Then there was in the atmosphere, in Mangala Charan Chattopadhyay's language, clouds, rains and storms, and there was the association of floods, along with the load-shedding of that evening. One among us read out in Bengali : "Storm before rain, flood after rain/And when the rains have swept away homes in hundreds/ Mute beasts and muted men/And the Famine Relief Society, themselves famished/ Have filled the city streets with whining/The, O lily of love, will you/ Return to Conjugal concupiscence?" These lines, much later then the time when they were written, touched our period with fiery addiction, and it seemed to us that the ambience of their touch was extremely widespread. Isn't this depiction of the self-denigration and self-indulgence of the middle classes, whose conscience is sleeping, as yet relevant? Not only in our country, but in overtly capitalist countries, when considerations of production and profit is intensifying the problem of employment, who will deny the relevance of Samar Sen's poetry? I had just then recited before a coal-miner, a fellow extremely fond of poetry, of Central Europe, those astonishing lines, " On the edge of mahua forests/ The ponderous sound of coal mines/ Green and dew-wet is the morning/When I see/The disgrace of dust on the tired/ Bodies of men/ What dim nightmare haunts their sleepless eyes?" This worker-reader, who was then above thirty, felt charmed and raised a number of questions about this poet. Two days before I recited the poem, he, along with many activists, had organized a procession against the government in protest against the threat of dismissal. He told me that in the next procession, he would prepare festoons using lines from Samar Sen and Subhas Mukherjee's poetry.

There is, of course, little point in trying to prove the relevance of the poet from these two bright and yet isolated events. In the history of literature, we find many principal poets whose prophecies are not fulfilled to the letter in this fashion. Poetry is not holy write, and in the age of computer, technologists would not allow even a great poet to forecast about the future. Hence we, in order to find out the significance of Samar Sen's poetry, do not wish to identify the contiguity of accidental coincidence of place and time as the only condition. Of course, all poets are products of place and time, but in the writings of those who are great, examples are found of putting time and place in another mould and building singular individual worlds. In this cultivation, Samar Sen was helped by an individual mood trained in Marxism, which has become the heritage of Bengali intellectuals with a creative bent of mind. It has to be kept in mind that the so-called decadence is a strong ingredient of modern poetry. Those who have tried to exercise their brains over Brecht's sociology with the help of his own formula have observed that these songs were composed for the entertainment of the decadent middle and lower-middle classes indeed despite their dormant sense of progress. Samar Sen rejected the charge of decadence against the modern Bengali poet with his sharp arguments. He said that the contemporary Bengali poet was standing between two fires. If he, in his awareness of the sins and woes of his own class, spoke of his own degradation, he would be accused of obscenity and abstruseness. He would be reminded that the eternal ideal of art is truth and beauty, negating which was a symptom of bad taste. On the other hand, it would be said from the camp of progress that this poet was defeatist and scarcely intelligible, decadent and utterly petty-bourgeois. In this way, accusations against him would be all-round (Vide, In Defence of the Decadents, New Indian Literature, No 2,1939, p 25). Cecil De Lewis, a fellow poet of Samar Sen, too wrote "Only the fools can live/between the two fires" Samar Sen did not want to spend his days between the fires like a ghost. Is that why he gave up writing poetry and moved to journalism? Such an assumption is supported by another analysis of him. He saw the inevitable sense of helplessness on the part of the Bengali poet after the literary abundance of the period from Madhusudan to Tagore, and felt shaken. Even the sight of the 'alien corn' on the soil of language did not adequately fill up his mental vacuum. Seeing the market potential of Hindi in independent India, inflation, adulteration of food, erosion of moral senses, signs of decay in everything except empty rhetoric, his worries about the illness in body and mind of the future generation increased and he had to confess that without some magic touch of love, the poet was bound to face bad days (Vide, The Alien Corn, The Statesman, 30 September 1951). For the sake of history, there can be no denying that even after Samar Sen had stopped writing poetry, Bengali poets struggled against these bad days and provided us with numerous good poems. But if Samar Sen, after writing quite some poems of extraordinary quality, had bidden farewell to the world of Bengali poetry for this reason of age, there is no difficulty in saying that this withdrawal was poet-like and sensible.

The name of the quality that Samar Sen left in Bengali poetry is 'confession'. After Madhusudan's sonnets, he is probably the first to attribute artistic value to this possibility. The confessional mea-culpism of Madhusudan is autobipgraphical in a more pronounced form than that of Samar Sen. Rather Samar Sen has adjusted to time and made that inspiration a subject of attack in a larger fashion. He has so easily captured in his pulsating prose this age that is without refuge like Tantalus in the sulk and aborted revolution, something which has been possible for very few poets in customary rhythm. His nerve-dominated merit has avoided coarse progressiveness or benign upward movement and through frank self-exposure, began a new era that has not yet ended. Only Jibanananda, through the intermediacy of fragmented epics, assimilated this age in his poetry in a manner mightier than that of Samar Sen, although the transition in the final stage of his career as a poet has not been that much credible to us in its entirety. "Liking or disliking a modern poet depends, in the final analysis, on the outlook of the reader"(Parichay, 6/2). That is why the poetry of Samar Sen, who made this determining comment, is still relevant, without having to depend on our instant outlook. Had Gotfreid Ben been alive, he indeed would have been happy. Samar Sen wrote more than five resplendent poems, which are certain to survive the test of at least this century. Who can predict about the future?

[Translation from original Bangla, Kalamer Front, 1988 by Anirban Biswas. Lines from translations of two poems, one made by Buddhadeva Bose and  another by Samar Sen himself have been reproduced here. Courtesy : Anustup, Samar Sen Special Number, 1988)

Vol. 49, No.13-16, Oct 2 - 29, 2016