Madhusudan Dutta

Madhusudan Dutta

In reading my poem, you must look - 1st to its imagery; 2nd to the language in which those /images and thoughts are expressed; 3rd to the individual flow of each verse.

Poet's comment on his new blank verse style, a radical departure from the established practice, in a letter to one of his closest friends ]

Madhusudan Dutta, was born in Sagardari, a village of the then Jessore district on 25th January 1824. Dutta was the first Bengali poet who broke the shackles of the past poetic traditions. He introduced sonnet and also used the unconventional blank verse style in Bengali poetry - that startled his audience. He wrote

"... the Blank verse is the best suited for Poetry in every language. A true poet will always succeed best in Blank verse as a bad one in Rhyme. The grace and beauty of the former's thoughts will claim attention, as the melody of the latter will conceal the poverty of his mind.
MSD, as he was known to his friends, was youthful, care-free, forever enthusiastic but always rebellious. Rhyme did'nt have any place in his life, nor was it a part of his poetry. He was a true messenger of the new dawn, the first glimpse of the Bengali, albeit Indian, renaissance. He devastated the old and ushered the new. He brought new creativity - life - to Bengali literature. He wrote:
Take my word for it, that Blank verse will do splendidly well in Bengali and that in course of time, like the modern Europeans, we too shall equal, if not surpass, our classic writers. What we want at present are men of zeal, of diligence, of energy, of enthusiasm, of liberal views to give our language a lift. If we have no genius among ourselves, let us prepare the way for the future ones... My motto is 'Fire away, my boys!' The Namby-Pamdy-Wallahs - the imitators of Bharat Chunder [ famous Bengali writer ] - our Pope, who has -

Made Poetry a mere mechanical art,
And every warber has his tune by the heart!
may frown or laugh at us, but I say - "Be hanged" to them!
Highly educated and hugely influenced by his pouring adoration of the English poets like Thomas Moore, John Keats and George Byron and by other European literature Dutta started his adolescent literary career in English language as a student of the Hindu College. His fascination with the English poetry was so deep and his command over the English language so enormous that his poems, though lacking maturity and depth, were published regularly in the Bengal Spectator, Literary Gleaner, Calcutta Literary Gazette, Literary Blossom and Comet. Reading his letters, one is somewhat convinced that he fell in love with England the Land of Byron - his idol. It was the blind passion for that faraway Land that arguably led him to become a Christian, believing that will help him secure a passage to England. His father Rajnarain was very much angered by this. He left home and left the Hindu College and joined the Bishop's College. Here he learned Greek, Latin and Hebrew languages.

Dutta went to Madras (now Chennai) in 1848 and became the English Teacher at the Madras Male Orphan Assylum School. In 1852 he was employed as a teacher at the Madras University School section and gained fame as a journalist. He acted in the editorial staff of a number of Madras newspapers such as the Madras Circulator and General Chronicle, Aethenium and the daily Spectator. He became the joint-editor of the Spectator and later the Chief Editor of the Hindu Chronicle. His English books of poetry - The Captive Ladie and Visions of the Past were published in 1849. Though well received in the English circles and amongst English-educated locals, these publications did'nt quite make the literary grade that Dutta hoped for.

Away from home, forsaken by his parents and deprived of the intellectually enlightened companionship of his close friend circle in Calcutta, Dutta came to pass a rather difficult phase of life. The marriage with his first wife Rebecca (with whom he had two sons and two daughters) ended in divorce. His mother died in 1853 and father in 1855. In January 1956 he married a French lady - Emilia Henrietta - not till death did they part company of each other. A new chapter began in his literary career.

Dutta came back to Calcutta in February 1856. Quite empty-handed. Back in Bengal, back with his soulmates that, by the way, included famous names like Gourdas Basak, Bhudeb Mukherjee, Bholanath Chandra, Bankubehari Dutta and Raj Narain Bose. In July he was employed as Head Clerk of the Police Court where he later (February 1857) became an interpreter during the Sepoy Mutiny. Dutta was inspired and allowed his poetic creativity to flow in his mother tongue. He perhaps realised that there awaited a fountain of poetry in his pen to be given birth in Bengali - all this happened while he was translating his English plays for the Bengali stage. His experimentation with the application of blank verse style in the play named "Padmavati". An accident?

Eminently not. As Dutta proudly announced:

Let those who feel that they have spring of fresh thought in them, fly to their mother tongue.
and he wrote elsewhere:
I had no idea ... that our mother tongue, would place at my disposal such exhaustless materials ... The thoughts and /images bring out words with themselvs, - words that I never thought I knew.
Here started the most significant period of Dutta's literary creation - he wrote a number of Bengali plays at this time - Sermistha, Kissen Cumari and Maya Kanan; farces like Ekei ki Boley Savyata, Booro Shaliker Gharhey Ro and a few Bengali or english translations including the famous Bengali play called Nil Durpan by the notable Bengali playwrite Dinobandhu Mitra.

But the above merely represent the beginning or dawn of Dutta's poetic genius. In 1860 his poetry in blank verse named Tilottoma Sambhav Kavya created a storm of sensation in Calcutta literary scene. The eager readers waited with abated breath for the arrival of his modern epic poetry Meghnad Badh Kavya the most popular and revered of his poetry on the sad demise of Meghnad - the invincible son of Ravana - killed by Luxman in the war that ensued following Ravana's abduction of Sita ( sacred wife of Rama - heroine of the celebrated Indian epic Ramayan). Meghnad's sucess as a sad tale rather "heroically told" in reverse i.e., contradicting the Valmiki thesis immortalising Rama and Luxman, instead making Meghnad the unquestionable hero who was killed in an unfair battle (a battle which was not fought face to face).

Meghnad was followed by Brajangana Kavya, Veerangana Kavya and his book of Sonnets which was written whilst the poet was stranded in Verseiles due to the despicably depressing financial constraints (that also prolonged his study for the Bar at Law in London). Vidyasagar borrowed money at home so he could complete his degree - which he eventually refunded when he was back home in 1867 and started practising law at Calcutta High Court. In 1870 Dutta resigned from the High Court practice and joined as Examiner of the Privy Council records at the High Court. At this time his Bengali translation of part of Homer's Iliad called Hector Badh was published.

The brief period over which Dutta's literary career was active he breathed life in Bengali poetry - he is hailed as truely the first Bengali poet. Bengali literature no doubt owes a great deal to this comet like rebel of a poet. Madhusudan Dutta died on Sunday 29th June, 1873 at 2.00 p.m. merely three days following death of his wife Henrietta. He wrote "I am as poor as a great poet ought to be", but he lived like a King with a heart like the open sky that was full of lyric, full of romanticism, full of heroic gifts from the vast shores of the Indian heritage for the generations of Bengali poetry lovers to come after him. And that's perhaps the reason why the appreciative Bengali poetry audience did shed tears on his untimely death. Bankim Chandra Chatterjee wrote that there certainly was hope for literarure in Bengal as its people had started mourning the death of its beloved poet. This prophecy is certainly true.

What Vidyasagar is to the Indian social reform Madhusadan is to the Indian Literature.


Much of the materials for this article was sourced from the Complete Works of Madhusudan, Patro's Publications, Fouth edition, Calcutta 1995