Freedom -- 3 Poems by Jayanta Mahapatra


By Jayanta Mahapatra

At times, as I watch,

it seems as though my country’s body

floats down somewhere on the river.

Left alone, I grow into

a half-disembodied bamboo,

its lower part sunk

into itself on the bank.

Here, old widows and dying men

cherish their freedom,

bowing time after time in obstinate prayers.

While children scream

with this desire for freedom

to transform the world

without even laying hands on it.

In my blindness, at times I fear

I’d wander back to either of them.

In order for me not to lose face,

it is necessary for me to be alone.

Not to meet the woman and her child

in that remote village in the hills

who never had even a little rice

for their one daily meal these fifty years.

And not to see the uncaught, bloodied light

of sunsets cling to the tall white columns

of Parliament House.

In the new temple man has built nearby,

the priest is the one who knows freedom,

while God hides in the dark like an alien.

And each day I keep looking for the light

shadows find excuses to keep.

Trying to find the only freedom I know,

the freedom of the body when it’s alone.

The freedom of the silent shale, the moonless coal,

the beds of streams of the sleeping god.

I keep the ashes away,

try not to wear them on my forehead.


By Jayanta Mahapatra

The substance that stirs in my palm
could well be a dead man; no need
to show surprise at the dizzy acts of wind.
My old father sitting uncertainly three feet away

is the slow cloud against the sky:
so my heart's beating makes of me a survivor
over here where the sun quietly sets.
The ways of freeing myself:

the glittering flowers, the immensity of rain for example,
which were limited to promises once
have had the lie to themselves. And the wind,
that had made simple revelation in the leaves,

plays upon the ascetic-faced vision of waters;
and without thinking
something makes me keep close to the walls
as though I was afraid of that justice in the shadows.

Now the world passes into my eye:
the birds flutter toward rest around the tree,
the clock jerks each memory towards
the present to become a past, floating away
like ash, over the bank.

My own stirrings like the wind's
keep hoping for the solace that would be me
in my father's eyes
to pour the good years back on my;

the dead man who licks my palms
is more likely to encourage my dark intolerance
rather than turn me
toward some strangely solemn charade:

the dumb order of the myth
lined up in the life-field,
the unconcerned wind perhaps truer than the rest,
rustling the empty, bodiless grains.

Her Hand

By Jayanta Mahapatra

The little girl’s hand is made of darkness

How will I hold it?

The streetlamps hang like decapitated heads

Blood opens that terrible door between us

The wide mouth of the country is clamped in pain

while its body writhes on its bed of nails

This little girl has just her raped body

for me to reach her

The weight of my guilt is unable

to overcome my resistance to hug her

Author's Bio: From (

Jayanta Mahapatra

Jayanta Mahapatra, born on 22 October 1923 in Cuttack, belongs to a lower middle-class family. Had his early education (from Kindergarhen to Cambridge classes) in English medium at Stewart school, Cuttack. After his Master's Degree in Physics, he joined as a teacher in 1949 and served in different Government college of Orissa. Got his superannuation in 1986 when he was in Ravenshaw College, Cuttack.

Jayanta Mahapatra began writing poems rather late in comparison with his contemporaries. But this late beginning does not in anyway distort his achievement. His poems have appeared in most of the reputed journals of the world. He received the prestigious Jacob Glatstein Memorial Award (Chicago) in 1975. He is the first Indian poet in English to have received the Central Sahitya Akademi Award(1981) for his Relationship . His other volumes include Close the Sky, Ten by Ten, Svayamvara & Other Poems, A Father's Hours, A Rain of Rites, Waiting, The False Start & Life Sings. His translations (from Oriya to English ) bear the stamp of his originality too.

His early poems were born of love, of love's selfishness. They celebrate not only passion, the body's spacious business, but consistently evoke a melancholic atmosphere rent with absences, fears, foreboding and sufferings. But slowly and steadily the poet released himself from this lonesome citadel of love, and learnt involving himself with other men, living or dead with many other succulent chambers of living. Fear of ageing, fear of death, and love for life and memory, love for the golden past an inquisitiveness to live amid contraries of life, and a complete absorption in and identification with culture and tradition of Orissa-all these run simultaneously, as it were, the poet is sincerely trying to uphold the lost dimension of blood and the living. Death is a new beginning for the poet, and life a 'telegraph key tapping away in the dark':

Childhood memories occupy a considerable space in his poetry. His commitment to and identification with Orissa becomes complete when he exhorts the dark daughters engraved on the body of the Sun Temple at Konark.

The richness and sophistication of language, the softness and delicacy of the words chosen, systematized orchestration of authenticated experiences through the exact palpability of images, the sincerity of harping on the 'feel' of the experiences rather than on their 'thought', the sweetness of music emerging from a fountain-like flow of the verse-form contribute to the greatness and ingenuity of Mohapatra's poetry.


  1. How about a Nobel to Mahapatra? I think poets/writers with lesser accomplishments have already bagged it. I am sure the Nobel selection committee with its obsession for finding a spiritual quality or philosophical credo in the works of poets for awarding the lit prize would not be disappointed in the works of Mahapatra which have enough of it.

    Santa Patnaik
    New Delhi

  2. sohel...i am unable to locate his two poems for my course
    The Voice
    A Missing Son
    Could you please post them here?

  3. Sorry, I could not find these two poems you've mentioned: The Voice and A Missing Son.

  4. Thank you for the reply Sohel...i got one...the university printed the title wrong...'A missing person' it ought to be...


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