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The Scottish 'Ploughman Poet' Among the Bengali Intelligentsia: Appreciating Robert Burns in Colonial Bengal.


Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) in the course of a Bengali essay on W. B. Yeats makes an observation that translates as, [Robert] Burns was born at a time when English literature was marred by its artificiality. He felt and expressed with all his heart. It is for this reason that Scotland's liberated soul was able to break through the fence of regimented convention and take its place unhesitantly in the realm of poetry. Rabindranath introduces this statement by drawing a general parallel between Yeats and Burns, 'At times some exceptional people are born who do not register any need for an intermediary substance, or the interrupting presence thereof, between their feelings and the subject of those feelings; they can express with great confidence the rasa--the aesthetic pleasure inherent in the cosmos and the human life; it is they who can surmount courageously all the disingenuousness of contemporary poetry.' (1) The tendencies that Rabindranath discerns in Burns are put in a more concrete historical perspective in an essay entitled Adhunik Kabya written two decades later, where he states, 'The English poetry I was introduced to in my boyhood could be called the modern poetry of the day. Poetry had taken a new turn at that time, which was initiated by Burns. Several great poets emerged within a short time riding this wave, such as Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley and Keats'. Later on in the same essay, Rabindranath adds the name of Byron to this trend, and defines it as consisting in the celebration of a subjective vision and individuality. (2) Rabindranath does not use the term Romantic for the five (currently) canonical poets named by him, but his friend Brajendra Nath Seal (1864-1938) had seen them as early as 1890 to be belonging to a relatively coherent aesthetic phenomenon. (3)

Another Bengali essay from the late nineteenth century recognises Burns's path-breaking role as a poet while also celebrating his uniqueness. It calls him an 'impulsive poet', as against Wordsworth who is a 'poet of impulses', and affirms,
Burns [as an eighteenth-century poet] stood apart [from the likes of
Pope, Collins, Gray, Goldsmith and Thompson]--his poems are certainly
extraordinary--like a stream that flowed independently without ever
mingling with the ordinary. Nevertheless, he exercised considerable
influence on the poets who came after him. Wordsworth has acknowledged
the power of songs based on simple truths; something he learnt from a
rustic poet [such as] Burns. (4)

These articulations in fact anticipate recent critics in correlating Burns with the Romantic canon. Just to adduce an example, Gerard Carruthers in his 2006 monograph suggests that 'Burns is a harbinger of an age about to explore nature in a new way, where humanity and the natural world are seen to stand much less sharply apart than had previously been the case, and of the lyric suffusion (in both his poetry and his songs) of the Romantic period'. Carruthers adds, 'the Wordsworths, Coleridge, Hazlitt and later Byron, Keats and Shelley all see Burns as a watershed moment in British poetry.' (5)

When juxtaposed with such readings, the picture of Robert Burns that emerges from comments made by some nineteenth-century Bengali critics appears to be strikingly solitary and tradition-less, perhaps too idiosyncratic to initiate an aesthetic trend or belong to a canon. (6) The reception of Robert Burns by the late nineteenth-century Bengali readers, one may argue, instantiates the double bind of his metropolitan reputation as the peasant poet representing Scotland. In the nineteenth-century Bengali readings Burns is ceremonially elevated to a quasi-canonical status while being tacitly marginalised within the codes of literariness. It is intriguing (and not fully explicable) why the Bengali readings would ignore or elide some of the implications of the Burns corpus, such as nationalism and love for indigenous language, folk literature/orature and songs, which were immediately relevant to their cultural--historical location.

Discussions on Burns or references to him in Bengali journals of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century reveal a consistently celebratory stance. For example, Ashutosh Choudhury (1860-1924) in an 1887 essay effusively dwells upon the sincerity and intensity of Burns's emotions. He poses the rhetorical questions: 'Does the love contained in [Burns's] songs know any bounds? Can you or I attain such love?' (7) Similarly, Shitalakanta Chattopadhyay observes in his essay, published in the same periodical in the same year as a response to Ashutosh's:
Who is there today who can read English but does not read Burns, laugh
or weep on reading Burns, consider Burns as the foremost master of the
lyric? Burns is the greatest of English lyricists, counting also the
Scottish and the Irish ones. The best songs of Burns are rarely
rivalled in English. Whatever subject he chose for his poems, they
would turn out to be incomparable. His love songs glow with desire; his
funny poems are fun embodied; his songs of despair shroud the heart in
darkness. (8)

Likewise, an anonymous 1896 essay published in the monthly Sahitya declares, 'A hundred years have passed since Burns's death, but he still stays put in the peak of fame, wrapped in untarnished glory, and there is no possibility of his descent from that position. Some poets are appreciated by a few individuals, but everyone happens to be a worshipper of Burns'. (9) Much in the same vein, a 1918 essay on the Persian poet Hafez cites Emerson's authority to take Burns for granted as one of the greatest (lyric) poets known in world history and place him in the company of Pindar, Horace and Anacreon. (10)

Burns evidently enjoyed something of a canonical status in Bengal, considering the fact that other eighteenth-century Scots poets such as Allan Ramsay, Alexander Ross, William Hamilton or Robert Fergusson were hardly familiar to Bengali readers, while nineteenth-century working-class poets such as James Hogg and John Clare similarly failed to create any impact on them. However, Burns's popularity in contemporary Bengal was not so certain as the comments made by a few critics, equipped with a liberal education and taking pride in their eclectic reading, would suggest. (11) By the turn of the nineteenth century, Burns was a widely published poet and much-performed songwriter throughout the British Empire, but his canonisation was at best incomplete in the sense that he did not find much favour with the colonially sponsored academe in Bengal.


Burns's arrival in India was enabled by the Empire, but he did not enjoy the channel of dissemination that was largely responsible for clinching the canonical preeminence of Shakespeare in India, namely, the colonially instituted education system. A glance at the Calcutta University calendar of 1858-59 (the first such publication from the university after its foundation in 1855) indicates that Burns is left out of the syllabi for the Entrance and Bachelor of Arts examinations, but Scott's Marmion is prescribed for the B.A. examination of 1860. (12) Even by 1871-72. Burns's name does not appear on the Entrance, First Arts or Bachelor of Arts syllabi, whereas Burns's younger contemporaries Scott, Byron and Wordsworth now become regular occurrences in the curricula. For the B.A. (Hons.) examination of 1872 lyrical poems are prescribed from Palgrave's Golden Treasury, Books I-III, including those by the 186-century poets Gray and Collins, but Burns is again left out. The syllabus for the same examination of 1873 includes the entire Book IV of the Golden Treasury, which segment in the anthology's revised and enlarged 1903 edition had no poem by Burns. (13) Further, a cursory look at the calendar for 1892 confirms the impression, except that Tennyson now emerges as an academic favourite. What is more, the B.A. (Pass) curriculum for 1893 has an item clarifying that Hales's anthology is to be used for 'Longer English Poems from Dryden to Byron, omitting Burns. (14) The same phrase is repeated for the B.A. (Pass) course of 1894. (15) Again, the 1922 calendar likewise excludes Burns from the syllabi for the Intermediate Arts (I.A.), B.A. and M.A. examinations, although three poems by the recently deceased war poet Rupert Brooke (1887-1915) are now compulsory reading for the I.A. examination of 1923. (16) The stipulated textbook of poetry for the Matriculation examinations of 1923, 1914 and 1925 is Lahiri's Select Poems, published by the university itself, which in its 1932 edition contains no poem by Burns. (17)

The omission of Burns from the syllabus cannot be simply ascribed to a business-like impulse to train the native bourgeoisie in the standard English language of the day for effective communication. Chaucer and Spenser, for all the linguistic challenges posed by them, featured frequently on the syllabi. To take some random examples, selections from Chaucer were prescribed for the B.A. (Hons.) examination of 1872, 1873 and 1884, and the M.A. examination of 1885, 1894, 1895 and 1896. (18) Similarly, selections from The Faerie Queene figured on the syllabus for the B.A. (Hons.) examination of 1871, 1873, 1883, 1895 and 1896. (19) For that matter, Shakespeare, by then acknowledged as the highpoint of the English literary canon, was quite distanced from the English usage of the day. But this did not stop him from becoming a regular feature on the B.A. and M.A. syllabi under the Calcutta University. Murray Pittock rightly protests that 'Burns is no more difficult than Spenser or Shakespeare', and reminds that 'comparisons between Burns and Shakespeare' formed a regular motif of 'nineteenth-century criticism and appreciation.' (20) However, these facts do not seem to be reflected in the Calcutta University curricula, even during the period when Burns enjoyed his greatest glory in the Anglophone world.

Earlier in the century, in his 1839 memoirs the Reverend Alexander Duff (1806-1878) recalls a debating society in Kolkata, probably the one at the Hindu College presided over by the Eurasian poet and teacher Henry Louis Vivian Derozio (1809-1831). Duff's ears were greeted there more than once 'with the sound of Scotch rhymes from the poems of Robert Burns' recited by Indian students. Duff records his elation as an expatriate Scotsman when 'one of the sons of Brahma' (i.e. a Bengali Hindu student) at the debating society 'in an apparent ecstasy of delight' broke into Burns's lines celebrating a visionary egalitarianism, 'For a' that, and a' that, / Its comin' yet, for a' that, / That man to man, the world o'er, / Shall brothers be, for a' that. (21) This was again not a formal academic exercise and bespeaks the radicalism and heterodoxy of Derozio and his followers. It will be difficult to find a similar account of Bengali students enthusiastically reading or reciting Burns within an academic institution or as part of curricula. It has been noted that Ramtanu Lahiri (1813-1898), a saintly social reformer and educationist, 'liked to read out to his students passages from Burns, Cowper, Thomson, Campbell and Milton's Comus; but this would be 'in addition to the usual texts prescribed for class teaching. (22)

Apart from this, Michael Madhudan Dutt. (1824-1873), the most groundbreaking and (in)famous of the nineteenth-century poets to write in Bengali, as a student of Hindu College quotes Burns in an 1842. letter to classmate Gourdass Bysack: ''The best laid scheme o' mice an'men'' /--Are often disconcerted--', and clarifies in parentheses, 'I do not remember the second line. (23) Michael might have gained familiarity with Burns thanks to his voracious reading, or he might have also learnt about Burns from the charismatic teacher of English literature at Hindu College, Captain David Lester Richardson (1801-1863), who was committed towards inspiring the love of poetry in his students. Richardson himself had compiled a mammoth collection of English poems for the benefit of Indian students, whether or not the poems and poets were actually taught in the classroom as part of syllabi. The anthology features five poems by Burns, including 'To a Mouse, from which Michael quotes in his letter. (24) Subsequently, Indian students eager to read Burns would have to depend on Hales's chrestomathy or compilations such as The Golden Treasury, which in its 1903 edition features eleven of Burns's poems (as against Scott's twelve and Byron's eight). (25) The interest shown in Burns by colonial educators such as Derozio, Duff, Richardson and Ramtanu Lahiri does not appear to be followed up by others within the premises of the academe in Bengal. It may be conjectured that Burns was received by the English-educated Bengali readers outside the strictures of institutional pedagogy, or as an auxiliary to it. But this engagement, as the following section will argue, could not always evade the discursive parameters set by the prevalent opinion originating and circulating in the white Anglophone world.


Consistent with the Anglophone practice, the Bengali observations on Burns emphasise his class position and penury, invoking them as a frame for reading his poetry. (26) Notably, a brief anonymous account of 1894 on the Russian poet Aleksey Vasilievich Koltsov (1809-1842) introduces him as 'a peasant's child like the Scotch poet Burns' and adopts the same strategy of consistently relating his poetry to his life-world as a peasant. (27) David Sampson records that in the early years of Burns's reception his poetic achievement was measured in terms of his ability to transcend his social obstacles, whereas, with the increasing assurance of his reputation, his poverty and relative lack of education came to be considered as conducive to his spontaneous self-expression. (28) The Bengali accounts, hero-worshipping Burns for his struggle with hardship, do not entirely eschew the former stance. However, these commentaries are more strongly inclined towards the latter position, inasmuch as they tacitly recognise Burns's difficult life as enabling and preserving the peasant poet's fabled spontaneity that they make much of In the essay mentioned earlier, Ashutosh Choudhury contends,
You need to remember that he was born in a cold night of the month of
Poush [month in the Bengali calendar overlapping December and January],
his life similarly ended in the cold of Poush, amidst a heap of snow on
the open field. Then you will appreciate if Burns was a poet of the
heavens, if the melancholy of his songs reflects the glory of the
heavens. (29)

Earlier in the essay, Ashutosh quotes a couple of lines from Burns's autobiographical poem 'There Was a Lad Born in Kyle' and gives a fuller account of his hardships. (30) Further, Shitalakanta Chattopadhyay in the aforesaid essay cites the poet's class background as an explanation for his biographers' patronising attitude towards him. (31) Likewise, the anonymous 1896 notice published in Sahitya also emphasises Burns's status as the peasant poet. The account paraphrases and builds upon the speech that the Poet Laureate Alfred Austin delivered while unveiling Burns's statue at Irvine, North Ayrshire on 15 July 1896 and also the speeches made by Lord Rosebery, Leader of the Opposition on the occasion of the centenary of Burns's death during the same month. It declares:
[Burns] was born in the cottage of a poor peasant, struggled with
poverty, and studied in the intervals of hard labour. He was happy with
his farming. Suddenly, just as the papiya [the brainfever bird] starts
singing mellifluously hidden behind the shady branch of a tree, he
started pouring out his enlivening songs. There was no end to his
singing till his death. (32)

This purple patch also typifies another related tendency, that of evoking Burns's poverty in order to establish him as a nature's child and an untutored genius. In a similar vein, Ashutosh rhapsodises over Burns's spontaneity in his essay, almost holding him as a force of Nature: 'While reading Burns, who does not feel that just as birds sing spontaneously, just as rivers flow on their own with a pleasant murmur, just as the wind pervades the firmament of its own accord, so Burns sings, so flows the river of his emotions, so spreads the generosity of his heart all over the world [?]' (33) Shitalakanta's essay is comparatively free from such effusiveness, but he agrees with the other two accounts when he rates Burns higher than Shelley and Browning for sampurna saralya (absolute simplicity) and castigates the other two for what he perceives to be their self-indulgent obscurity of expression. (34)

These estimates of Burns derive from a stereotype, which was famously inaugurated by Henry Mackenzie in his review of Burns's Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (the 1786 Kilmarnock edition) when he hailed Burns as a 'heaven-taught ploughman' who inhabits a 'humble and unlettered station.' (35) Burns actively anticipated and contributed to this image, as is reflected in the motto appearing on the title page of the same edition of his poems: 'The simple Bard, unbroke by rules of art, / He pours the wild effusions of the heart: / And if inspired, 'tis nature's pow'rs inspire--/ Hers all the melting thrill, and hers the kindling fire.' (36) The Bengali accounts, broadly in keeping with the dominant Victorian approach towards Burns, seek to consolidate the sentimental picture of Burns's simplicity and spontaneity. They appear to be quite blissfully ignorant of the biographical or textual evidence (emphasised by today's scholarship) of Burns's literary training and conscious self-construction.

Ashutosh Choudhury enlists the fact of Burns's poverty for condoning his personal failings and the occasional coarseness of his poems. Ashutosh postulates, 'Because of many reasons, including hunger, lack of respectful recognition, lack of shelter--Burns had slowly lost the full purity [purna pabitrata in the Bengali original] of his life.' (37) This is an especially charitable account of the poet who had extra-marital liaisons with at least five women, produced six illegitimate children (including a set of triplets) and was publicly rebuked by the Kirk for misdemeanour. (38) Ashutosh is careful enough to hide the fact of Burns's alcoholism and sexual incontinence under decorous phrasing, and adds that Burns's foibles and sins made him more complete as a poet and a human being. () As against this, Shitalakanta Chattopadhyay considers Burns's lapses to be immaterial to his greatness as a poet. (40) The account published in Sahitya, on the other hand, does not go for a class-based explanation of Burns's personal failings but exonerates him sentimentally. It claims that his ingenuous confessions and his tears washed away all his sins and that he is venerable for painting the highest models of virtue. (41) Another anonymous notice, published in Sahitya in 1895, is entirely dedicated to the question of Burns's morality. Summarising with due acknowledgement a recent article published in the Westminster Review, the notice claims that Burns was a great moral educator, who demonstrated the futility of wealth and social prestige and taught that only liberty and mental peace led to true happiness. The account further paints him as an exceptionally magnanimous being who openly wept for his own sins and those of all humanity, who even felt sorry for the devil and prayed for him. (42) Similarly, in the course of discussing Rabindranath's anthology Chaitali, Hemendra Prasad Ghose quotes eight lines from 'Address to the Unco Guid, or The Rigidly Righteous' and states that the poem is about sympathy for the sinner rather than a celebration of sin. (43) Thus, the reception of Burns as a poet in Bengal involved the negotiation of entrenched moral and social questions, even when the negotiation was not noticeably original. (44)

These commentaries, together with the Bengali translations of Burns's poems and songs, configure him as a bucolic poet of love and bonhomie while downplaying his satirical and political articulations. For example, Ashutosh Choudhury in his essay paraphrases two poems of an amatory interest, including 'A Rose-bud by My Early Walk', quotes two lines from Burns's merry autobiographical poem 'There Was a Lad Born in Kyle' and cites the pious favourite, 'The Cotter's Saturday Night.' (45) The anonymous account in Sahitya generically refers to Burns's love lyrics and mentions by title 'Tam o'Shanter; a poem of rollicking fun. (46) As against this, Shitalakanta Chattopadhyay mentions two poems of church satire, namely 'Holy Willie's Prayer' and The Holy Fair', and moves on saying that Burns has only three or four such poems and therefore they cannot be taken as characteristic of Burns's general outlook. Shitalakanta adds that Burns never intended to hurt anyone through his poems. He goes on to quote in full or partially seven poems of love and mentions several others. (47) Burns's status in the contemporary Bengali imaginary as an authority on love is illustrated by the fact that a learned treatise called Prem ('Love') quotes Burns at least six times. (48)

In the second installment of his essay, Shitalakanta paraphrases and discusses in detail the poems 'A Winter Night', 'To a Mouse', and 'To a Mountain Daisy' to illustrate what he finds to be Burns's sarbalingankari (all-embracing) love that extends beyond the human world. (49) Likewise, Rabindranath's nephew Balendranath Tagore (1870-1899), in an essay entitled Pashupriti (The Love for Animals') published originally in the monthly Sadhana of March-April 1894, commends the poem 'To a Mouse: According to Balendranath, the sympathy for an animal that Burns shows in the poem is not to be found in the poetry of any other country, and at least, it has no equivalent in Sanskrit literature. (50) Apart from this, Hirendranath Dutta (1860-1942.) notes briefly Burns's sympathy (sahanubhuti in Bengali) for animals, together with and as distinct from what he perceives to be Cowper's friendly approach towards them and Wordsworth's cosmic (jagatik) vision of them. (51)


If one considers translations or adaptations of Burns's poems in Bengali, four of them are ascribed to the teenage Rabindranath. They appeared on the pages of the monthly Bharati between 1878 and '79. The poems translated are all love lyrics, namely, 'The Farewell', 'Duet', 'Mary Morrison, and 'The Birks of Aberfeldy.' (52) The translations are all laden with chaste Sanskrit-derived vocabulary typical of the (elite) Bengali love poetry of the time and they do not try to replicate the endearing admixture of rustic dialect found in the source text. The primary reason why Burns is remembered by a non-specialist Bengali audience today is that Rabindranath famously adapted the text and tune of two of Burns's songs. (53) He rendered 'Auld Lang Syne' as Purano Shey Diner Katha ('The Story of Those Old Days') and The Banks O Doon' as Phule Phule Dhole Dhole Bohe Kiba Mridu Baay ('Resting on Flower by Flower How Gently the Wind Blows'). (54) These two have been found to be among the only three songs by Rabindranath where he adapted not only the tune but also the bhav or general import of the British original. (55) These also continue to be two of the most frequently performed of Rabindranath's songs. (56) In the former song Rabindranath retains the spirit of nostalgia and fellow feeling to be found in Burns's text, but he scrupulously removes any reference to drinking since it would not be compatible with polite Bengali tastes. In Rabindranath's rendition of 'The Banks O Doon' (consisting of just four lines, incorporated in his 1882 opera Kalmrigaya) one finds only an idyllic and contrived description of natural beauty. Burns's song The Banks O Doon' is characterised by a pervasive melancholy, occasioned by the pangs of separation and unfaithfulness in love that afflict the lover persona and that incapacitate him from sympathising with Nature. The translation by Rabindranath leaves out the subject of amatory reversals and implies the mood to be one of an indeterminate and aesthetically inclined wistfulness. The popularity of these two songs would strengthen in the Bengali imaginary the impression of Burns as a poet of pastoral bliss and human emotions. (57)

While most Bengali readers of Burns would encounter him through the printed word, Rabindranath probably had the privilege of listening to Burns being performed and appreciate the music. This was thanks to the musical interests of his polymathic elder brother, Jyotirindranath Tagore (1849-1925), and his sojourns to England. (58) In two Bengali short stories by Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay (1873-1932) one finds fashionable and affluent English-educated Bengali young men singing Burns's songs in the original. In the story Mukti, two lines are adapted from the comic and slightly risque song 'I'm O'er Young to Marry Yet' to suit a situation of friendly mockery. (59) In the story Prabashini, the song 'Ye Banks and Braes o' Bonie Doon' is mentioned, followed by a quotation of four lines from Rabindranath's translation. Later in the story, eight lines are quoted from 'My Luve is like a Red, Red Rose' and the entire poem is also provided in the author's own translation. (60) These two stories afford a glimpse of the milieu to which an extremely privileged segment of the young Bengali intelligentsia belonged, a milieu in which Rabindranath and Prabhat Kumar would have themselves participated. (61)

Another translator who hailed from a similar background and had access to the tunes of Burns's songs was the poet, songwriter, composer and playwright Dwijendralal Ray (1863-1913). (62) He translated five of Burns's songs, all acknowledged officially by citing the first line of the Scottish text as the tide of the Bengali translation--Auld Lang Syne; The Banks O Doon, 'Gin a Body' ('Commn thro the Rye', Second Setting), 'My Heart's in the Highlands' and 'A Man's a Man for A' That.' (63) Unlike Rabindranath's adaptation, Dwijendralal translates both of the eight-line stanzas of 'The Banks O Doon' quite faithfully, preserving the theme of infidelity and melancholy almost line-by-line. The River Doon of Ayrshire is, however, indigenised into Jamuna, famously associated with the love of Krishna and Radha in Hindu mythology. The translation of 'Gin a Body' follows closely the spirit and the sense of Burns's song, but it eschews any comparable use of rustic speech. Moreover, the rye of the song becomes dhankhet (paddy field) in Bengali through cross-cultural transference. The translation of this song is also rather laboured and stilted, lacking the compactness and rhythmic facility of Burns's text. The translation of 'My Heart's in the Highlands' has greater freedom and fluency, showing experimentation with metre and stanza pattern. Dwijendralal translates 'Auld Lang Syne' and 'A Man's a Man for A' That' not into Bengali but into Hindi. He uses the Bengali script and addresses a Bengali-reading audience, but the language chosen for the translation is Hindi of a highly stylised, contrived and (in his rendition) often of an ungrammatical kind. It is suggestive of the dialects used for the text of the classical genre khayal and the semi-classical genre thumri in the Hindustani tradition of music. For 'Auld Lang Syne; Dwijendralal transforms the six four-line stanzas of Burns's song into five four-line stanzas without demarcating any chorus from the rest of the song, but salient themes and images of Burns's text are replicated in his translation. Unlike Rabindranath, he keeps as the refrain of his song the invitation to fill up drinking cups for old times' sake. Again, for 'A Man's a Man for A' That' Dwijendralal translates the five eight-line stanzas of the original into an undivided text of thirty-two lines, but he carefully keeps the striking images of the original and renders the repeated phrase 'for a' that' into our jo kuchh ('what else may be'). An anonymous review published in the monthly Bharati of 1895 praises Dwijendralal's efforts at translating British songs, but also points out the insurmountable geo-cultural barrier that prevents the full appreciation and assimilation of these songs in Bengali. (64) Dwijendralal's translations of Burns never gained the popularity that Rabindranath's Burns-derived songs did, and they were never performed after Dwijendralal's death. (65)

Apart from this, the poet Satyendranath Dutta (1882-1922), famous for his experiments with metre and stanza patterns, translated 'To a Mouse' as Ekti Mushiker Prati and 'A Man's a Man for A' That' as Nishkalanka Daridrya ('Unsullied Poverty'), in both cases trying to replicate Burns's original metre as closely as possible. (66) Both of these close translations mention Burns as the poet and appear in Satyendranath's 1908 anthology Teertha-Salil ['Holy Water of Pilgrimage']. Besides, a free and acknowledged translation of Burns's poem 'To Mary in Heaven' appears in the monthly Sahitya in 8908. (67) What is more, one Ishwar Chandra Chattopadhyay in his earlier Bengali verse narrative about young lovers quotes Burns twice for chapter epigraphs, a kind of honour that was frequently accorded by Bengali novelists of the period to the likes of Shakespeare, Milton and Byron. (68)


It is quite striking that Burns's patriotic poems such as 'Scots Wha Hae; 'Gude Wallace', 'My Heart's in the Highlands', 'Fareweel to A' Our Scottish Fame' and 'Caledonia' are virtually ignored in the Bengali commentaries. It is understood why Burns's poems about topical and partisan politics would fail to appeal across the cultural and historical divide, but strangely, the Bengali readership that hailed Burns's younger compatriot Sir Walter Scott as a model for patriotic or national literature, would fail to appraise warmly Burns's investment in his Scottishness. The influence of Scott's verse narratives on those by Rangalal Bandyopadhyay (1827-1887) and Nabin Chandra Sen (1847-1909) is quite palpable, their key note being 'patriotic fervor with a romantic background.' (69) Besides, Scott's novels proved to be a seminal influence on the historical romances of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay (1838-1894), the most widely read Bengali novelist and essayist of the nineteenth century and a leading advocate of Bengali national pride. (70) Lord Byron, another poet of Scottish descent, substantially inspired Bengali poets such as Rangalal and Nabin Chandra who wrote on historical and patriotic subjects. (71) However, no such line of reception can be traced between Burns and the Bengali poets, although there was a great flowering of Bengali lyric poetry in the last three or four decades of the nineteenth century. (72) Derozio's reception of Burns is obvious in his poems such as 'To My Brother in Scotland' and 'Here's a Health to Thee, Lassie!; (73) but hardly any such Bengali examples can be named with total confidence, apart from the translations and adaptations already discussed above. The literary historian Priyaranjan Sen cites a reviewer as asserting in the monthly Bandhab of 1878 that all the contemporary Bengali poets who have won name and fame happen to be the mantrashishya or baptised disciples of English poets such as Milton, Byron, Scott and Tennyson. (74) No such claims could be made about Burns's influence on Bengali poetry. (75) Nigel Leask records that one of the earliest Burns Suppers was held in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) in 1812. and that Burns's 'best known songs were adapted to commemorate contemporary events, such as the doggerel verses written on the death of Major-General Rollo Gillespie at the battle of Dehra Doon during the Gurkha wars; "Ye banks and braes of bloody Doon! / Ah woe the while! Ye're Rollo's tomb!"' (76) But such popularity was restricted to the Anglophone circles in colonial India (even if we include the English-educated Bengalis like those in Prabhat Kumar's stories) and never became strongly apparent in Bengali literature.

The Sanskrit scholar and educationist Haraprasad Shastri (1853-1931) sums up the cult status that Lord Byron enjoyed among the English-educated Bengali youth of his time when he calls Byron the 'friend of the oppressed, enemy of the oppressor, repository of love, youth embodied, intrepid, forever restless, and inimical to lethargy and the high-handedness of the society.' (77) The same readership that adored Byron as an eternal rebel against oppression and the champion of political liberty (thanks especially to his involvement in the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire) failed to connect the irregularity of Burns's biography with his poetry to constitute a pro-radical and anti-elitist image--a kind of image that incidentally underlies Burns's popularity in Russia from the nineteenth century. (78) Burns's poems of class consciousness and humanitarian sentiments, such as The Twa Dogs', 'Epistle to Davie, A Brother Poet' and 'The Slave's Lament' remain largely marginalised, if not totally ignored, in the Bengali reception of Burns. Even when the Bengali accounts recognise Burns's sympathy for the underdog, it is read as a sign of his peculiar largeness of soul and not as symptomatic of any coherent political position. One Bengali account categorically refutes the possibility of Burns espousing any concrete, partisan brand of politics. (79) Nigel Leask has been quoted as proposing that 'Burns, while on the one hand propping up a sense of Scottish identity in the cultural hierarchies of the British Empire, also inspired Bengali and other intellectuals and writers to value their own native language and cultural traditions, thereby indirectly promoting national self-determination which eventually led to independence.' (80) But documentary evidence hardly supports this thesis. It appears that Burns's ambiguous status (as a Scottish 'ploughman poet' prized by the white rulers of the English-dominated British Empire but not privileged in the colonial education system in Bengal) did not provide an impetus for the self-definition and self-assertion of the colonised in Bengal. Rather, it led to his further marginalisation and pigeonholing within the canon of English poetry as received by the Bengali readers. More importantly, Burns's corpus or reputation never seems to have been evoked by the Bengali as a source of inspiration during the nationalist struggle for independence from colonial rule.

A related issue is Burns's use of vernacular Scots, which would often be held as a non-standard dialect of English. While readers in Burns's lifetime often treated his use of 'dialect' rather condescendingly, with the consolidation of his reputation in the nineteenth century the 'dialect' was regarded as a marker of his authenticity, and the critic Francis Jeffrey even challenged that dislike of Burns's Scots would be 'an ignorant, as well as an illiberal prejudice. There were more than a hundred separate printings of Burns as early as 1835, and his success paved the way for the rise of regional or dialectal poetry from other parts of the British Isles. (81) Burns inspired no similar phenomenon in Bengal, or rather, the Bengali readers of Burns did not feel induced solely and immediately by his example to produce or promote dialectal and regional poetry in Bengal. Notably, Czech critics of Burns from the late nineteenth century were percipient enough to mark that Burns, rather than being a naive and rustic poet, amalgamated astutely traditional Scottish dialects and forms of literature with more familiar and privileged English ones in order to preserve his own national heritage. The Czech critics also weighed the possibility of following in Burns's footsteps for a Czech national regeneration. (82) The Bengali reception of Burns as cited above has not been so insightful and nuanced. The Bengali essays on Burns are silent about his juggling of multiple dialects and registers. Prompted by the dominant view in the contemporary Anglophone world, the Bengali accounts accept Burns's use of non-standard English as a correlative of his spontaneity and simplicity as a ploughman poet that they celebrate so eagerly. The 1896 anonymous notice in Sahitya credits Burns with saving the Scotch (meaning, Scots) language from extinction, but does not mention if, or how, his achievement may be immediately relevant to the Bengali scene. (83) Comments arising from the colonial Bengali intelligentsia subscribe to the reputation already enjoyed by the poet in the Anglophone world. In the process, they, however, reinforce the stereotypes surrounding Burns and restrict hugely his efficacy as a cultural catalyst in the colonial situation.

In addition, the Bengali readings of Burns also fail to recognise him as a collector of folk heritage, a contributor to the multi-volume anthologies The Scots Musical Museum and the Select Collection of Scottish Airs. (84) A similar attention towards folk cultures was increasingly evident in contemporary Bengal. Rabindranath himself was deeply interested in the folk heritage of Bengal all his life and was responsible for drawing the notice of the intelligentsia towards it. For example, between 8895 and 1897 Rabindranath wrote and published in various periodicals four essays on folk orature, which were later collected in the volume named Loksahitya (8384 Bs). Rabindranath was especially instrumental in spreading awareness about the Baul cult of Bengal and the songs produced by its practitioners. (85) But he never cites the example of Burns in his discussions about folk songs and folklore. Given Rabindranath's acquaintance with Burns's work and reputation, Burns's influence on him in these projects was at best subliminal. In the early twentieth century, hitherto unprinted folk songs from rural Bengal came to be published in leading Bengali magazines such as Bharati, Sahitya, Prabashi and Bharatbarsha, which would have the same kind of clientele as the essays on Burns mentioned earlier. (86) In a more self-consciously academic fashion, Dineshchandra Sen (1866-1939) began to compile folk songs especially from eastern Bengal and produce learned volumes on Bengali folk culture. (87) None of these enterprises show the awareness of Burns as a pioneer and exemplar. Therefore, it is difficult to substantiate any claim about Burns's direct inspiration for the revival of interest in Bengali folk traditions.

occurred through the agency of a pro-urban elite, more specifically, the upper-class, upper-caste Western-educated Hindu (and Brahmo) men. This was a small but articulate and socio-politically influential community, often called the bhadralok (literally, 'genteel men'). (88) From around the middle of the nineteenth century, this community was trying to forge a refined and sanitised literary voice suitable for the emerging public sphere. (89) Needless to say, the apotheosis of the process would be Rabindranath himself. For the English-educated Bengali elite Burns's style or temperament could not serve as a model, since it appeared to challenge the coherence of a refined linguistic community on which the identity of the bhadralok would be predicated to a considerable extent. (90) Noticeably, the Bengali discussions as well as translations of Burns ignore the possibility of cultivating a provincial or dialectal idiom in Bengali literature following his example. Moreover, the Bengali translations of Burns reveal how his self-consciously dialectal forms are routinely ignored and obliterated. One only has to juxtapose 'Auld Lang Syne' with Rabindranath's Purano Shey Diner Katha to observe the ingrained process of sanitisation and poeticisation.

All these factors support the hypothesis that the English-educated pro-urban elite of Bengal that received Burns in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century would not be comfortable with the kind of cultural identity upheld by Burn's poetry, since it is purportedly based upon (or capitalises upon) moorings in a traditional agrarian community and an earthy provincial life. Burns's vision of Nature and society together with his aesthetics could be admired from a distance, but such an appreciation was attempted by the colonial Bengali elite necessarily with the underlying realisation of a vast socio-cultural hiatus. It is true that Burns's class position or linguistic manoeuvres did not stop the elite in the Anglophone world from enjoying his poetry or songs, but his presence among the Bengali audience was never so strong and palpable (for all the examples discussed above) as it was in the Anglophone world. While discussing the great popularity of Burns in the Ireland of the 1950s, Bernard O'Donoghue hails him as 'the patron-figure of the English-derived vernacular of the Celtic nations, and cites Seamus Heaney to point out that Thomas Moore's songs, unlike Burns's, 'remained attached to a kind of drawing-room world. (91) Largely because of the much greater ethnic, geo-cultural and linguistic difference, Burns could never be a living presence in Bengal as he was in Ireland (for example). He enjoyed the attention of a limited Western-educated coterie in Bengal. Besides, the process of de-canonisation of Burns as analysed by Murray Pittock was also probably responsible for the lack of visible interest in Burns among the Bengali intelligentsia in the twentieth century. (92)

It needs to be recalled that Burns's status as the Scottish peasant poet within the overarching canon of English poetry was itself paradoxical, inasmuch as it was defined by his socio-economic marginality and aesthetic alterity. As later scholarship has shown cogently, Burns was able to synthesise several strands of Scottish or even British identity and engineer a poetic persona that became the toast of the Anglophone reading public by the mid-nineteenth century. Burns's multivalent linguistic and cultural experiments would not be so obvious to audiences in the nineteenth century. Historically, therefore, the nineteenth-century Bengali readers of Burns were not in a position to appreciate adequately the varied dimensions of Burns's self-fashioning and reception. Thus, Burns was envisaged by the colonial Bengali intelligentsia ultimately as an imported museum piece, not as a living presence among them. Burns's status as a literary curiosity introduced by the coloniser allowed him an enthusiastic response from a select audience for a limited period of time in Bengal. Burns was not received as an object of wider and enduring emulation and assimilation within the Bengali culture.


(1) Rabindranath Tagore, Kabi Yeats ['Yeats the Poet'], in Rabindra-Rachanabali ['The Collected Works of Rabindranath'], vol. 26 (Kolkata: Visva-Bharati, 1949), pp. 521-28 (p. 522). The essay was written in London in September 1912. All the translations from Bengali into English used in this essay are mine, unless otherwise indicated. In accordance with the Bengali custom, men of Bengali origin have been mostly referred to by their first names within the main body of the essay after they are introduced by their full names.

(2) Rabindranath Tagore, Adhunik Kabya ['Modern Poetry'], in Rabindra-Rachanabali, vol. 32 (Kolkata: Visva-Bharati, 1947), pp. 410-34 (pp. 420, 422). The essay is dated 1339 BS, which would be 1932-33 CE. In a slightly earlier essay, Rabindranath anticipates this observation almost in its entirety when he describes Burns as a rebel against rigid conventions who paved the way for Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley and Keats. See Rabindranath Tagore, Sahityarup ['The Nature of Literature'], in Rabindra-Rachanabali, vol. 23 (Kolkata: Visva-Bharati, 1947), pp. 492-503 (p. 496). The essay, originally delivered at a colloquium, is dated 1335 BS, which would be 1928-19 CE. An academic article by a Bengali author published in the 1930s echoes these observations as it describes Burns's poetry as embodying 'a passionate yearning for a return to nature and truth, in a powerful revolt against conventionality, classicism, and unreality in life and literature [of the age of reason] . Jnan Ranjan Datta, 'Revolt of Blake and Burns against the Eighteenth Century', Dacca University Journal 12 (Annual, 1936), pp. 102-09 (p.101).

(3) Brajendra Nath Seal, 'The Neo-Romantic Movement in Bengali Literature', in Malini Bhattacharya and Anasuya Ghosh (eds.), Romanticism in Bengal, 1881-1922: An Anthology of Articles from Bangla (Kolkata: Papyrus, 2003), pp. 65-102. Brajendra Nath was a distinguished philosopher and educationist. The essay, written in English, was serialised in The Calcutta Review between 1890 and 1891, and it was later incorporated into his collection entitled New Essays in Criticism (Kolkata: Som Brothers, 1903). His essay, however, does not consider Burns.

(4) Hemendra Prasad Ghose, KabitarJug ['The Age of Poetry'], trans. Indira Chowdhury, in Malini Bhattacharya and Anasuya Ghosh (eds.), Romanticism in Bengal, 1881-1922: An Anthology of Articlesfrom Bangla (Kolkata: Papyrus, 2003), pp. 161-65 (Pp. 164, 161-63). The Bengali essay was originally published in the monthly Utsaha in Asharh 1304 Bs ( June-July 1897).

(5) Gerard Carruthers, Robert Burns (Horndon, Tavistock: Northcote House Publishers, 2006), pp. 3, 19. See also Fiona Stafford, 'Burns and Romantic Writing; in Gerard Carruthers (ed.), The Edinburgh Companion to Robert Burns (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009), pp. 97-109.

(6) The appraisal of Burns as an exceptional and inimitable genius was probably occasioned by Carlyle's exuberant celebration of him as a hero. See Thomas Carlyle, On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History (London: Chapman and Hall, 1840), pp. 173-80. Carlyle was highly esteemed in late nineteenth-century Bengal as a philosopher-prophet, almost of Vedic proportions, as can be inferred from periodical essays. See, for example, Nibaran Chandra Das, Jnani Carlyle [The Sage Carlyle'], Nabyabharat, Ashwin 1292 Bs [September-October 1885], pp. 173-81.

(7) Ashutosh Choudhury, Kabi Burns ['Burns the Poet'], Bharati O Balak, Magh 1293 BS [January-February 1887], pp. 586-91 (p. 591). Sir Ashutosh Choudhury, friend of Rabindranath, was an eminent jurist, educationist and political leader. Apart from studying at Presidency College, Kolkata, he took a B.A. and an M.A. from Cambridge and acquired his legal qualifications in England. He had an advanced level of proficiency in English literary studies and was a lifelong literary enthusiast.

(8) Shitalakanta Chattopadhyay, Krishan Kabi Burns ['Burns, the Peasant Poet'], Part 1, Bharati 0 Balak, Chaitra 1293 BS [March--April 1887], pp. 704-12 (p. 705). Shitalakanta Chattopadhyay (1856-97) was a lawyer by training and won renown as the editor of the nationalist newspaper The Tribune, published from Lahore. He was famous for his fearless critique of the colonial administration.

(9) Burns, Sahitya, Ashwin 1303 BS [September-October 1896], pp. 349-51 (P 349).

(10) Narendra Deb, Hafiz, Bharatbarsha, Poush 1325 BS [December 1918--January 1919], pp. 97-104 (p. 103). Emerson's passing reference to Burns as one of the greatest lyric poets may be found in Ralph Waldo Emerson, 'Persian Poetry', in The Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. 6: Letters and Social Aims (London: Macmillan and Co., 1885), pp. 173-96 (p.179)

(11) It may be added that the Western-educated Bengali elite in the nineteenth century generated a much larger volume of comments on Shakespeare, Byron, Shelley (and even Tennyson) than they did on Burns. Out of these, Shakespeare, Byron and Tennyson appeared regularly on college and university syllabi in nineteenth-century Bengal, Shelley did not.

(12) The Calcutta University Calendar, 1858-59 (Kolkata: Bishop's College Press, 1858), p. 71.

(13) The Calcutta University Calendar, 1871-72 (Kolkata: Thacker, Spink & Co., 1871), pp. 95, 96. See also Francis T. Palgrave (ed.), The Golden Treasury: Selected from the Best Songs and Lyrical Poems in the English Language, and Arranged with Notes (1861; London: Macmillan and Co., 1903). Burns's poems appear in Book III of this edition.

(14) University of Calcutta, The Calendar for the Year 1892 (Kolkata: Thacker, Spink & Co., 1892), p. 158. Emphasis added. The poems by Burns included in Hales's anthology are 'The Cotter's Saturday Night' and 'The Twa Dogs. See John Wesley Hales (ed.), Longer English Poems, With Notes, Philological and Explanatory, and An Introduction on the Teaching of English. Chiefly for Use in Schools (4th edn.; London: Macmillan and Co., 1875), pp. 112-23.

(15) University of Calcutta, The Calendar for the Year 1893 (Kolkata: Thacker, Spink & Co., 1893), p. 151.

(16) The Calcutta University Calendar, 1922 (Kolkata: Calcutta University, 1922), p. 574.

(17) The Calcutta University Calendar, 1922, pp. 543, 556, 565. See also Lahiri's Select Poems (Kolkata: The University of Calcutta Press, 1932). The preface (without pagination) to the book notes that the collection was originally compiled by three school headmasters in collaboration, and that the copyright was donated by S. K. Lahiri to the university, whose proviso was considered by the syndicate of the university in 1914.

(18) The Calcutta University Calendar, 1871-72, pp. 94, 95; The Calcutta University Calendar, 1882-83 (Kolkata: Baptist Mission Press, 1882), p. 91; University of Calcutta, The Calendar for the Year 5894 (Kolkata: Thacker, Spink & Co., 1894), pp. 169, 170.

(19) The Calcutta University Calendar, 1871-72, pp. 94, 96; The Calcutta University Calendar, 1882-83, p. 90; University of Calcutta, The Calendar for the Year 1894, pp. 156, 163.

(20) Murray Pittock, '"A Long Farewell to All My Greatness": The History of the Reputation of Robert Burns; in Murray Pittock (ed.), Robert Burns in Global Culture (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2011), pp. 25-46 (pp. 32, 31).

(21) Alexander Duff, India and India Missions: Including Sketches of the Gigantic System of Hinduism, Both in Theory and Practice (1839; Edinburgh: John Johnstone and Hunter Square, 1840), p. 639. Duff does not mention Derozio in his book and refrains from naming the institution where he encountered the debating society, probably because of Derozio's reputation for atheism and his allegedly radical sympathies. However, Rosinka Chaudhuri confidently identifies the society to be the Academic Association, which was formed by Derozio and his students at Hindu College, Kolkata, as an extra-curricular platform for free discussion. See Rosinka Chaudhuri, Gentlemen Poets in Colonial Bengal: Emergent Nationalism and the Orientalist Project (Kolkata: Seagull Books, 2002), p. 33.

(22) Priyaranjan Sen, Western Influence in Bengali Literature (Kolkata: University of Calcutta, 1932), p. 141.

(23) Kabi Madhusudan O Tar Patrabali ['Poet Madhusudan and His Letters'], ed. Kshetra Gupta (Kolkata: Grantha-Nilay, 1933), p. 80. The letter is superscribed with the details: 'Tumlook [or Tamluk, a town now in southern West Bengal] 3rd Kartic 1249 Tuesday Morning'. The date indicates that it was written in October 1842.

(24) David Lester Richardson (ed.), Selections from the British Poets from the Time of Chaucer to the Present Day: With Biographical and Critical Notices (Kolkata: The Baptist Mission Press, 1840), pp. 1034-41. The other poems by Burns present in the anthology are 'The Cotter's Saturday Night; To a Mountain Daisy; 'For a' That and a' That; and 'Bannockburn.

(25) Another well-known anthology was Ward's multivolume one, first published in 1880. The third volume of the anthology in its 1909 edition included 33 poems by Burns. See Thomas Humphry Ward (ed.), The English Poets: Selections with Critical Introductions by Various Writers, and a General Introduction by Matthew Arnold, vol. 3 (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1909), pp. 524-71.

(26) A young Rabindranath in a rather unsympathetic essay on the proto-feminist scholar and activist Pandita Ramabai (1858-1922) mentions in passing that Burns was hardly a well-educated man, implying that Burns did not need an advanced level of education in order to become a great poet. He makes this comment in the context of arguing that the same kind of education or ability cannot be proper and natural for both men and women. Rabindranath Tagore, Ramabaier Baktrita-Upalakshe ['On the Occasion of Ramabai's Lecture'], in Rabindra-Rachanabali, vol. 12. (Kolkata: Visva-Bharati, 1942), PP. 450-55 (p. 450). It is indicated that the essay was originally written as a letter from Pune, dated Jyaistha 1296 Bs (May June 1889).

(27) Aleksey Koltsov, Sahitya, Bhadra 1301 BS [August-September 1894], pp. 341-44 (p. 341). The account is based on a discussion published in The Calcutta Review.

(28) David Sampson, 'Robert Burns: the Revival of Scottish Literature?' Modern Language Review 80.1 (January 1985), pp. 16-38 (pp. 24-25).

(29) Ashutosh Choudhury, Kabi Burns, p. 491.

(30) Ashutosh Choudhury, Kabi Burns, p. 588. The text of Burns's works used in this essay, if not differently indicated, is derived from James A. Mackay (ed.), The Complete Poetical Works of Robert Burns, 1759-1796 (Darvel, Ayrshire: Alloway Publishing, 1993).

(31) Shitalakanta Chattopadhyay, Krishan Kabi Burns, Part 1, p. 705.

(32) Burns, Sahitya, p. 351.

(33) Ashutosh Choudhury, Kabi Burns, p. 587.

(34) Shitalakanta Chattopadhyay, Krishan Kabi Burns, Part 1, pp. 706-07. The phrase 'absolute sincerity' in English occurs in the original essay (p. 707). Similarly, a later essay vigorously declares Burns's poem 'For a' That and a' That' as an instance of lucid and straightforward poetry that is also indubitably great poetry. Dwijendralal Ray, Kabyer Abhibyakti ['Expression in Poetry'], Prabashi, Kartik 1313 [October-November 19061, pp. 361-66 (p. 365). Such commentaries seem to encounter no problem with Burns's deployment of multiple linguistic registers and less familiar dialects.

(35) See Henry Mackenzie, 'From "The Lounger:' December, 1786: in John D. Ross (ed.), Early Critical Reviews on Robert Burns (Glasgow and Edinburgh: William Hodge and Company, 1900), PP. 1-7 (P. 6).

(36) Quoted in Nigel Leask, Robert Burns and Pastoral: Poetry and Improvement in Late Eighteenth-Century Scotland (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 4. For an illuminating discussion on Burns's literaray training and self-fashioning as a poet see especially pp. 70-80.

(37) Ashutosh Choudhury, Kabi Burns, p. 589.

(38) Marilyn Gaull, English Romanticism: The Human Context (New York: VFW. Norton and Company, 1988), pp. 263-65.

(39) Ashutosh Choudhury, Kabi Burns, p. 589.

(40) Shitalakanta Chattopadhyay, Kristian Kabi Burns, Part 1, p. 704-05. Shitalakanta also takes Ashutosh Choudhury to task (albeit in a mild and bantering manner) since he feels that the latter has shown reservations about praising Burns because of the poet's lowly background and lack of education.

(41) Burns, Sahitya, p. 350. The speech by Alfred Austin that this Bengali account paraphrases had actually found Burns's moral character to be 'weak as water' and described Burns as 'convivial to a fault: A couple of Scottish newspapers castigated Austin's speech as 'tactless and factless' and falling 'far short of the occasion and the poet: Nicholas Roe, 'Authenticating Robert Burns; Essays in Criticism 46.3 (1996), pp. 195-218 (pp. 196, 215).

(42) Burner Niti ['Burns's Morality'], Sahitya, Baishakh 1302 Bs [April-May 1895], pp. 74-75. The notice rehearses the popular stereotypes about Burns, hailing him as a force of Nature like Keats's nightingale and praising his untutored spontaneity (p. 75). It also compares Burns favourably with Tennyson, pointing out that Tennyson's poems often appear to be laboured while Burns is always effortless (p. 75).

(43) Hemendra Prasad Ghose, Rabindrababur 'Chaitali' (Samalochana) ['A Review of Rabindranath's Chaitali'], Dashi, December 1897, pp. 513-31 (pp. 516-27).

(44) A rare example of a relatively unfavourable criticism of Burns comes from Girish Chandra Ghosh (1844-1812.), the greatest actor-manager of Bengali theatre and the most commercially successful playwright of his time. In an essay, Girish declares that Burns is much inferior to the medieval Vaishnavite poet Vidyapati, and that songs thematically similar to Burns's 'Had we never loved so blindly' are sung by ordinary Vaishnavite mendicants in Bengal. Girish Chandra Ghosh, Abhinay o Abhineta ['Acting and the Actor'], in Devipada Bhattacharya (ed.), Girish Rachanabali ['The Collected Works of Girish Chandra'], vol. 3 (Kolkata: Sahitya Samsad,1972.), pp. 829-44 (p. 836).

(45) Ashutosh Choudhury, Kabi Burns, pp. 588-91.

(46) Burns, Sahitya, p. 351.

(47) Shitalakanta Chattopadhyay, Krishan Kabi Burns, Part 1, pp. 705, 707-12.

48 Hemendranath Singha, Prem (Kolkata: Rabindranath Singha, 1302 Bs [1895-96]), PP. 13, 14, 18, 20, 74.

(49) Shitalakanta Chattopadhyay, Krishan Kabi Burns ['Burns, the Peasant Poet'], Part 2, Bharati O Balak, Asharh 1294 BS [June-July 1887], pp. 176-80 (p. 176).

(50) Balendranath Tagore, Pashupriti, in Balendranath Tagore, Prabandha Samgraha ['Collected Essays'] (Kolkata: Jijnasa, 1960), pp. 299-308 (p. 300).

(51) Hirendranath Dutta, Kalidasa o Shakespeare ['Kalidasa and Shakespeare'], Part 3, Sahitya 3.6 (Ashwin 5299 BS [September-October 1892]), pp. 333-49 (P. 345).

(52) See Sujit Kumar Mondal (ed.), Bideshi Phuler Guchchha: Rabindranath Thakur-krita A-Bharatiya Bhashar Kabita Anuvad ['A Posy of Foreign Flowers: An Anthology of Poems Translated by Rabindranath Tagore from Non-Indian Languages'], (Kolkata: Papyrus, 2011), pp. 100-09. 'The Farewell' is rendered by Rabindranath as Biday Chumban [The Farewell Kiss']. 'Duet' is rendered as Lalit-Nalini (Krishaker Premalap) ['Lalit and Nalini' (A Conversation between Peasant Lovers)'], where the rustic lovers Willy and Philly have been rechristened with the Sanskrit-derived Bengali names Lalit and Nalini respectively. The translation of 'Mary Morrison' is untitled but Mary has been given the Sanskrit-derived Bengali name Sushila. The translation of 'The Birks of Aberfeldy' is again without a title. Besides, the actual Scottish place name Aberfeldy' is not substituted with a Bengali Proper Noun and rendered into the vague giri-kanan (mountainous forest).

(53) It does not, however, follow that the average Bengali listener familiar with these two songs would also be familiar with Burns's texts or even take the Burns connection very seriously.

(54) See Indira Devi, Rabindrasangeeter Tribenisangam ['The Trijunction of Rabindranath's Songs'] (Kolkata: Visva-Bharati,1954) p. 9. Indira Devi Chaudhurani (1873-1960) was Rabindranath's niece and a close associate in his musical and dramatic enterprises. For an insightful commentary on Rabindranath's adaptation of these two songs by Burns, see Sudhir Chakraborty, Gaaner Dui Raja: Rabindranath 0 Robert Burns [Two Kings of the Song: Rabindranath and Robert Burns'], in Sudhir Chakraborty, Gaan Hote Gaane ['From Song to Song] (Kolkata: Patralekha, woo), pp. 183-204 (pp. 191, 199). This essay by the leading historian of Bengali songs attempts a comparative analysis of Burns's and Rabindranath's approaches towards the reworking of pre-existing songs.

(55) Anuradha Palchoudhury, Bilatiganbhanga Rabindrasangeet ['Rabindranath's Songs Derived from British Ones'] (Kolkata: Subarnarekha, 1999), pp. 15-16.

(56) For a helpful discussion of Rabindranath's adaptation of these two songs, and a lesser known adaptation of 'Auld Lang Syne' by him, see Amrit Sen, 'A Complex Interface: Rabindranath and Burns', in Tapati Mukherjee, Bashabi Fraser and Amrit Sen (eds.), Scottish Orientalism and the Bengal Renaissance: The Continuum of Ideas (Santiniketan, West Bengal: Visva-Bharati, 2017), Pp. 121-33 (pp. 128-30).

(57) Incidentally, the Bengali critic and scholar Sudhir Chakraborty quotes the line 'Oh! My luve's like a red, red rose' [sic] at the beginning of his review of the 2014 novel Holde Golap ('The Yellow Rose') by Swapnamoy Chakraborty, which has been described as a monumental and ground-breaking text on LGBT experiences in Bengal. Sudhir Chakraborty equates Burns's red rose with the socially sanctioned ideal of heterosexual love, against which the yellow rose of queer desire and queer identity defines itself. Sudhir Chakraborty, 'Un'commonder Bedanarta Akhyan ['A Painful Story of the 'Un'common'], Desh, 2 June 2015, pp. 77-79 (p. 77).

(58) Rabindranath recollects having listened to and also learnt some songs from Thomas Moore's Irish Melodies during his stay in England between 1878 and 1880. See Rabindranath Tagore, My Reminiscences [translation of his Bengali memoirs Jiban-Smriti by his nephew Surendranath Tagore] (Kolkata: Macmillan and Co., 1917), pp. 191-93. Rabindranath appears to have been more impressed with Moore than with Burns. As a teenager he translated eight of Moore's poems (as against four of Burns's) into Bengali. See Sujit Kumar Mondal (ed.), Bideshi Phuler Guchchha, PP. 30-51, 377-80.

(59) The song is an example of a traditional Scottish chorus with original verses added by Burns. The lines of Burns's song 'I am my mammie's unco bairn, / Wi unco folk I weary, Sir' are rendered in the Bengali story as: 'He is his mammie's ae bairn / With unco folk he's weary, sir: See Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay, Mukti ['Emancipation'], in Prabhat Granthabali ['Collected Works of Prabhat Kumar'], vol. 1 (Kolkata: Basumati Sahitya Mandir, 1916), pp. 233-45 (P. 239).

(60) See Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay, Prabashini ['The Expatriate Lady'], in Prabhat Granthabali, vol. 1, pp. 265-76 (pp. 272, 275). Both the songs are mentioned in the story to be by Burns, implying that he is the author of their texts and the composer of their tunes.

(61) Rabindranath went to England in 1878 to study law but returned in 1880 without a degree. Prabhat Kumar studied law in England from 1901 to 1903. He was close to the Tagore family and had Rabindranath himself as a literary mentor.

(62) Dwijendralal studied agriculture in England between 1884 and '86 and later had a career as a civil servant in the British colonial administration. He translated popular English, Scottish and Irish songs, which were published in his anthology of poems entitled Aryagatha, Part 2 (1893).

(63) The other Scottish songs translated by Dwijendralal are 'Robin Adair', 'Land of the Leal', 'Annie Laurie', 'Bluebells of Scotland', 'Auld Robin Gray', 'My Ain Fireside', 'Jock of Hazeldean' and 'Caller Herring. See Rathindranath Ray (ed.), Dwijendra Rachanabali ['The Collected Works of Dwijendralal'], vol. 1 (Kolkata: Sahitya Samsad, 1955), pp. 512-18.

(64) Aryagathar Gutikata Gaan ['Some Songs from Aryagatha'], Bharati, Jyaistha 1302 Bs [May--June 1895], pp. 103-13.

(65) Sudhir Chakraborty, GaanerDui Raja: Rabindranath O Robert Burns, p. 199.

(66) Priyaranjan Sen, Western Influence in Bengali Literature, pp. 171-72.

(67) Nityakrishna Basu, Swargabasinir Prati ['To a Lady Living in Heaven'], Sahitya, Phalgun 1314 BS [February--March 1908], pp. 639-41.

(68) Ishwarchandra Chattopadhyay, Mohini Mohan Kabya (Kolkata: Ishwarchandra Basu Co., 1182 BS), pp. 1, 104. The quotes are from two relatively unfamiliar poems by Burns, 'Sketch Inscribed to the Right Honorable C.J. Fox' (a satire in the Augustan tradition) and 'Epistle to Mrs Scott' (a gentle poem of thanksgiving). Ishwarchandra's verse narrative is a work of indifferent aesthetic merit and failed to receive much recognition. Its choice of quoting Burns, rather than any other English poet, for chapter epigraphs is not typical of Bengali literature of the period.

(69) Jayantakumar Das Gupta, 'Western Influence on Some Bengali Poets, Part 1, The Calcutta Review. February 1934, pp. 186-91 (pp. 188, 191, 191). For a more nuanced account of Rangalal's negotiation with English poetic forms, see also Rosinka Chaudhuri, The Literary Thing: History, Poetry, and the Making of a Modern Cultural Sphere (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2014), pp. 98-104

(70) Priyaranjan Sen, Western Influence in Bengali Literature, pp. 316-17.

(71) Das Gupta, 'Western Influence on Some Bengali Poets; pp. 186-87, 191, 192.

(72) For the increasing importance of Bengali as a literary language among the Western-educated Bengali intelligentsia after 1857, see Rosinka Chaudhuri, Gentlemen Poets in Colonial Bengal, pp. 130-34.

(73) See Rosinka Chaudhuri (ed.), Derozio, Poet of India: The Definitive Edition (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2008), pp. 108-09, 109-10.

(74) Sen, Western Influence in Bengali Literature, p. 142.

(75) Significantly, Sukumar Sen (1900-91) in his authoritative and widely-read survey of nineteenth-century Bengali literature does not cite even once the influence of Burns on Bengali poetry. See Sukumar Sen, Bangala Sahityer Itihas ['History of Bengali Literature'], vol. 3: 1801-1880 (Kolkata: Ananda Publishers, 1994).

(76) Nigel Leask, "'Their Groves o' Sweet Myrtles": Robert Burns and the Scottish Colonial Experience', in Murray Pittock (ed.), Robert Burns in Global Culture (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2011), pp. 172-88 (p. 181).

(77) Haraprasad Shastri, Bangiya Jubak O Tin Kabi ['The Bengali Youth and Three Poets'], in Satyajit Chaudhury, Debaprasad Bhattacahrya, Nikhileshwar Sengupta, Sumitra Bhattacharya (eds.), Haraprasad Shastri Rachana-Samgraha ['The Complete Works of Haraprasad Shastri'], Vol. II (Kolkata: Paschim Banga Rajya Pustak Parshad, 1981), pp. 475-92 (p. 481). The essay was published originally in the monthly Bangadarshan in 1878. Apart from Byron, the English poets considered by Haraprasad in this essay are Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden, Pope, Chaucer, Spenser, Shelley, Tennyson, and Wordsworth (in that particular order). Clearly, Haraprasad did not find Burns to be consequential enough for the Bengali audience to the same extent as these poets (all of whom, incidentally, featured on college and/or university syllabi).

(78) See Natalia Kaloh Vid, 'Ideological Adaptation of Robert Burns in the Soviet Union: For a survey of Burns's reception in eastern Europe and the USSR, see also Murray Pittock, '"A Long Farewell to All My Greatness": The History of the Reputation of Robert Bums', pp. 37-39.

(79) See Burns, Sahitya, p. 351. See also Burnser Niti, Sahitya, p. 75.

(80) Ayesha Banerjee, 'When Robert Burns ignited Bengal. This newspaper article also cites, as an example of Bums's influence in Bengal, Duff's experience at the debating society in Kolkata in the 1830's where Bengali students were found reciting Burns.

(81) David Sampson, 'Robert Burns: the Revival of Scottish Literature?; pp. 23-24.

(82) Murray Pittock, '"A Long Farewell to All My Greatness": The History of the Reputation of Robert Burns; pp. 37-38. Pittock refers to an unpublished 1009 conference paper by Martin Porchazka.

(83) Burns, Sahitya, p. 350.

(84) For the complicated nature of Burns's contribution as a collector, 'improver' and fabricator of 'traditional' Scottish songs, see Gerard Carruthers, Robert Burns, pp. 3-4, 95-108.

(85) See, for example, Rabindranath Tagore, The Religion of Man, Being the Hibbert Lectures for 1930 (London: Macmillan and Co., 1931), pp. 107-16, 207-20. See also Rabindranath Tagore, Creative Unity (London: Macmillan and Co., 1922), pp. 77-88. The producers and practitioners of such folk songs or mature would have no access to English literature.

(86) See Barun Kumar Chakrabarty, Bangla Loksahitya Charchar Itihas [A History of Folklore Research in Bengal'] (Kolkata: Pustak Bipani, 1999). pp. 286-320.

(87) Dineshchandra Sen, professor of Bengali language and literature at the University of Calcutta, collected in eight volumes narrative poems and plays that were transmitted orally in eastern Bengal, and also translated and discussed them over several volumes in English. See, as an introduction to his research on folk culture, Dineshchandra Sen, The Folk-Literature of Bengal (Kolkata: University of Calcutta, 1920). For Dineshchandra's construction of folk subjectivity and the politics of nationalism, see Saurav Kargupta, 'Dineshchandra Sen's The Folk Literature of Bengal: The Canonisation of Folk and the Conception of the Feminine; in Hans Harder (ed.), Literature and Nationalist Ideology: Writing Histories of Modern Indian Languages (New Delhi: Social Science Press, 2010), pp. 126-48.

(88) For a study of the evolution and definition of the bhadralok, see Himani Bannerji, The Mirror of Class: Class Subjectivity and Politics in 19th Century Bengal; Economic and Political Weekly 2.4.19 (May 13. 1989), PP. 1041-51. For the public construction and gendered ramifications of the bhadralok identity, see Dipesh Chakrabarty, 'The Difference-Deferral of (A) Colonial Modernity: Public Debates on Domesticity in British Bengal; History Workshop 36 (Autumn, 1993), pp. 1-34.

(89) For the rise of a modern Bengali national literature in the nineteenth century under the leadership of the Western-educated Bengali intelligentsia, see Rosinka Chaudhuri, The Literary Thing, pp. 11-16.

(90) This elite, urbane community of Bengal would appreciate the folk subjectivity as its 'other; but also as a 'primordial' self, an important precondition for imagining a continuity of nationhood. Saurav Kargupta. 'Dineshchandra Sen's The Folk Literature of Bengal; pp. 128-29.

(91) Bernard O'Donoghue, 'Ireland's National Bard; in David Sergeant and Fiona Stafford (eds.), Burns and Other Poets (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012), pp. 195-200 (pp. 199, 196).

(92) Pittock,' A Long Farewell to All My Greatness": The History of the Reputation of Robert Burns; pp. 25-30. I have not been able to find an instance of Burns being taught at any university in West Bengal at present.

Jadavpur University, Kolkata

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Title Annotation:ABHISHEK SARKAR
Author:Sarkar, Abhishek
Publication:Scottish Literary Review
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 22, 2019
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