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,
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—
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!