(Last Updated on : 17/08/2012)
Early English poetry was the earliest writing of the Indians in the English language. The first literary texts in English emerged from Bengal, and Raja Ram Mohan Roy
(1774-1833), the progressive advocate of English civilization and culture, wrote numerous essays and treatises, which were collected in a complete volume in 1906. But it seems that poetry was the genre that first took flight in the Indian imagination, the best-known nineteenth-century poets being Henry Louis Vivian Derozio
(1809-31), Michael Madhusudan Dutt
(1827-73), Toru Dutt
(1856-77), her cousin Romesh Chunder Dutt (1848-1909), and Manmohun Ghose (7-1924).
All of these poets, in some degree, were influenced by the idealistic strain of romanticism. Their poets reflect Christian as well as lyrical sentiments. It has been noted that the first volume of poetry in English came out even before these poets made their mark, such as Shair and Other Poems (1830) by Kasiprasad Ghose. By the turn of the century and into the early twentieth century, three more poets were to join their ranks, outdoing them with a far greater success and fame. These were Rabindranath Tagore
(1861-1941), Sri Aurobindo Ghose
(1872-1950), and Sarojini Naidu
Rabindranath Tagore, maily a lyrical poet, came to the attention of the West by his 1912 English translation of his Bengali poems. This collection was called Gitanjali
, meaning song offering, and this volume secured him international recognition. Though he went on to translate more of his poetry, Macmillan publishing the Collected Poems and Plays in 1936, Tagore is still best known for his first collection of poems and the creation of his experimental school, Santiniketan
, in Bolpur. Unlike Tagore, Sri Aurobindo wrote originally in English, more justly deserving the title of mystic and visionary with such well-known works as Savitri (1936) and The Life Divine (1939-40). Initially, Sri Aurobindo embarked on a career in the Indian civil service with a degree in the classics from King's College, Cambridge. The years of Anglicization came to an end when he rediscovered Indian religion and philosophy. After a period of nationalist activity, he established an ashram in Pondicherry, where he began to write his epic-style philosophical works and acquired a large religious following. Like Sri Aurobindo, Sarojini Naidu went to King's College in England, returning eventually to India on the advice of Edmund Gosse, who found her early poems "too English". Her three volumes of poetry, The Golden Threshold (1905), The Bird of Time (1912), and The Broken Wing (1917), earned her much fame and popularity in England. At home, she became a well-known public figure.
One of the most remarkable things about the early poets is that they did not see any contradiction between the Indian and Anglicized identities. Henry Derozio, for instance, was a fervent nationalist; yet, his love of the romantics found him riding an Arab horse through the streets of Kolkata
. Similarly, Toru Dutt went to Indian myth and legend for her themes in Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan, freshly reinterpreting some of these; yet, she remained attached to France and French literature, even writing a novel in French and translating French poems into English. Thus these early writers did not did not merely reproduce the axioms of imperialism and mindlessly imitate Western literature. They were the mediators between the east and the west.