Early English Poetry makes up some of the earliest writing by Indians in the English language. Some of the best know names in the field of Indian poetry, such as Rabindranath Tagore, Aurobindo Ghosh and Sarojini Naidu, have made significant contributions to early English poetry. All of these poets, in some degree, were influenced by the idealistic strain of romanticism. Their poets reflect Christian as well as lyrical sentiments. 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 Louis Vivian Derozio for instance, was a fervent nationalist; yet, his love of the romantics found him riding an Arab horse through the streets of Kolkata.
Rabindranath Tagore, mainly 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.
Vikram Seth's Mappings" (1980) was first volume of poetry, a little known collection, it includes translations of work by Chinese, German and Hindi poets. Through Mappings Seth served something of an apprenticeship while revealing an early preoccupation with European and Chinese cultural production that has, if anything, become more pronounced in his more recent work. Mappings was followed by From Heaven Lake: Travels Through Sinkiang and Tibet (1983), a popular and compelling autobiographical tale of the author's journey from Nepal to India and the many and varied people he meets on the way. Travel also provides the direction for Seth's next two collections, The Humble Administrator's Garden (1985) and All you who Sleep Tonight (1990). The Humble Administrator's Garden, is a witty collection of nature poems structured around plants/places: Wutong (China), Neem (India) and Live-Oak (California). "All you who Sleep Tonight" is an elegant book of poetry that combine the sharp humour that characterizes so much of Seth's writing with darker subjects such as Auschwitz and Hiroshima.
Toru Dutt another pillar of Indian poetry immersed unfathomable into the depths of 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.
Gradually with passing time the English language poetry became more Indianized in nature. The change that came about reflected the change in mentality that had ushered in among the Indian poets. Such Indianisation had been proceeding for several generations and is prominent in the poetry of Kamala Das and Pritish Nandy and present although more nuanced in the work of Keki.N.Daruwalla it is more likely to be felt in the verse of Nissim Ezekiel and Jayanta Mahapatra or in the kind of rapidly expressed ironies found in the poetry of Ramanujan.
Kamala Das initiated confessional mode in poetry and her personal agendas are channellised directly into her writing. A notable feature included in Kamala Das's character analysis is that she is perhaps the first Hindu woman ever to blatantly and candidly talk about sexual desires of Indian women, making her an iconoclast of her generation. Jayanta Mahapatra's style of obsessive writing and hopeless search in the meaning of human condition is an important characteristic of post modernism. The basic problem that haunts the poems of Mahapatra's is the relationship of the self with the other, the distance felt by the consciousness between being aware and what one is aware of. In Mahapatra's poetry such feelings are intensified as he questions the existence of the self, the other often takes the form of local society and especially Hindu culture, ritual and spirituality, symbols and past from which he had been alienated by his grandfathers conversion to Christianity and his own English education.
Mahapatra observed his environment and listened quietly and sensitively to his inner feelings, the sources of his poetry brought momentary perception of relationships and fleeting images of contrast. It was difficult, obscure poetry of meditation recording reality as an unknowable flux. It more often deconstructed what was perceived. It was poetry of inner spaces, of psychology, of contradiction and renewed feelings of depression, guilt, desire, lust and attention. Many of his poems seemed sealed against interpretation.
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