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|| হৃদি-ভগিনী || Heart-Sister

A few days back, I read the Bengali poem ক্যাম্পে (pronounced ‘camp a’ / kæmpe) by Jibanananda Das (and posted it in FB).

Simultaneously, I read some of the controversial and scandalous criticisms of it from the poet’s contemporaries. It rent my heart that such a beautiful deeply disturbing poem should meet with such venomous misinterpretation. Since then, however, sensitive readers have resurrected the prestige of the poem, and put it on the lofty pedestal it deserves.

I felt tempted to translate the poem, just for kicks. One of the reasons – I was intrigued by the phrase ‘হৃদয়ের বোন’ (Heart Sister) in the poem, which seemed to correspond with the apparently recent phrase ‘Soul Sister’.

Looking for the meaning/origin of the ‘soul sister’ phrase, I found the following:

P B Shelley was … at this time (about the age of 19/20) increasingly involved in an intense platonic relationship with Elizabeth Hitchener, a 28-year-old unmarried schoolteacher of advanced views, with whom he had been corresponding. She, whom he called the “sister of my soul” and “my second self”, became his muse and confidante in the writing of his philosophical poem Queen Mab, a Utopian allegory.

When editing of my translation, a Google search revealed that a translation of the poem existed, titled ‘The Camp’. Clinton B. Seely, an American academic, and a scholar of Bengali language and literature, who has translated the works, and written a biography of the poet, did the translation. I found some major difference between him and me in the interpretation of some aspects of the poem, like that of the doe, which the hunters employ to trap the bucks. Seely has interpreted it as a doe in heat, I have thought of it as just a trap-animal.

So, here is my interpretation. At the end of the poem, I have provided a link to Seely’s translation. For those, who want to read about the poem and its abominable criticism, I have provided a link at the end of the page.

At The Hunting Camp

Here, nearby the forest, I have pitched my tent;
All night, in the south wind
In the light of the moon in the sky
I hear the trap-doe call
Whom does she call?

Somewhere the bucks are being hunted tonight;
Today the hunters have come into the forest,
I too can sniff their scent, it seems,
Lying here, in my bed
I cannot sleep
In the spring night.

All around me, the marvel of the forest,
The March breeze,
Like the taste of the moonlight’s flesh!
All night, the trap-doe calls;
Somewhere deep in the forest, where the moonlight is no more
All the bucks hear her sound;
They feel her presence
They are coming towards her.
In this marvelous night, tonight
The time of their lovemaking has come;
Their heart-sister
Is calling them from the cover of the night
In the moonlight
In thirst’s solace, in its aroma, in its relish!
As if, tonight, there is no purlieu of tigers in the forest!
The bucks have in their heart no manifest fear,
No pale shadow of apprehension;
There is only the thirstiness,
There is a tingling thrill.
Perhaps in the tiger’s heart has risen wonder at the doe’s face beauty
Lust, desire, longing, love’s dreams, becoming vivid all around
Today in this spring night;
Here lies my nocturne.

The bucks are coming, one by one, deserting the paths of the deep forest
Leaving behind the ripples of all the waters, in search of a new assurance
Oblivious of the teeth and talons – coming to their sister, yonder
Under the mangrove tree in the moonlight!
As man, getting a whiff of her scent, draws near his brackish woman
The bucks are coming.
I sense them
The sound of myriad footfalls can be heard,
The trap-doe is calling in the moonlight.
I cannot sleep, no more;
Staying lying down
I hear the gunshots;
The trap-doe calls again, in the moon’s light;
Lying in rest, here alone, all by myself
A lassitude piles up in my heart
Hearing on and on, the gunshots
Hearing on and on, the call of the trap-doe.

Tomorrow the doe will return;
In the morning-twilight she will be seen
Her dead paramours lying about her
Man has taught her all this.

I shall smell venison on my dinner plate,
Yet, has flesh-eating ceased?
Why should it cease?
Why must I anguish thinking about the bucks
Am I not too like them?

In some spring night
In some wonderful night of my life
Has not someone called me, coming in the moonlight, in the south wind
Like that trap-doe?

My heart, a male deer
Forgetting all the violence on this earth
The terror of the leopard’s eyes, the shock – leaving all that behind
Did it not yarn to surrender to you?
The love in my heart, like those dead bucks,
When it had blended with the blood and the dust
Did you survive like this doe,
In life’s marvelous night,
In some spring night?

You too had learned from someone!
Like the dead animals, we too lie about, fallen, with our flesh;
At the door of disunion, of separation, of death, everything arrives
Like those dead bucks
From the lingering of love’s courage, longing, dream, we obtain pain, hate, death;
Do we not?

I hear the gunshots of the double-barrel.
The trap-doe goes on calling,
Sleep does not visit my heart.
I lie alone, by myself;
And still, quietly, the sound of the gunshots must be forgotten
The night talks of some other thing of hers in my camp-bed;
Those from the spout of whose double-barrels do the bucks die
Those, to whose plates the venison’s flesh and bones come, bearing relish and satisfaction
They too, are like you
They too wither their hearts, lying upon their camp beds.
Thinking of the words – thinking about – thinking

This pain, this love has existed all around –
Somewhere in the locust, in the insect, in the heart of man,
In the lives of all of us.
Like yonder those dead bucks in the spring moonlight
We all are.

Link to Seely’s translation: See

Link to the poem’s criticism জীবনানন্দের আলোচিত ও বিতর্কিত ‘ক্যাম্পে’ by ফারুক মঈনউদ্দীন: See