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Jayanta Mahapatra: “The

Abandoned British Cemetery at



This is history,

I would not disturb it: the ruins of stone and marble,

The crumbling wall of brick, the coma of alienated decay.

How exactly should the archaic dead make me behave?

A hundred and fifty years ago

I might have lived. Now nothing offends my ways.

A quietness of bramble and grass holds me to a weed.

Will it matter if I Know who the victims were, who survived?

And yet, awed by the forgotten dead,

I walk around them; thirty-nine graves, their legends

Floating in a twilight of baleful littoral,

The flaking history my intrusion does not animate.

Awkward in the silence, a scrawny lizard

Watches the drama with its shrewd, hooded gaze.

And a scorpion, its sting drooping,

Two eerie arms spread upon the marble, over an alien name.

In the circle the epitaphs run: Florence R---, darling wife

Of Captain R----R---, aged nineteen, of cholera- - -

Of what concern to me is vanished Empire?

Or the conquest of my ancestors timeless ennui?

It is the dying young who have the power to show

What the heart will hide, the grass shows no more.

Who watches now in the dark near the dead wall?

The tribe of grass in the cracks of my eyes?

It is the cholera still, death‘s sickly trickle,

That plagues the sleepy shacks beyond this hump of earth,

Moving easily, swiftly, with quick power

Through both past and present, the increasing young,

Into the final bone, wearying all truth with ruin.

This is the iron

Rusting in the vanquished country, the blood‘s unease,

The useless rain upon my familiar window;

The tired triumphant smile left behind by the dead

On a discarded anchor half-sunk in mud beside the graves:

Out there on the earth‘s unwavering gravity

Where it waits like a deity perhaps

For the elaborate ceremonial of a coming generation

To keep history awake, stifle the survivor‘s issuing cry.

References( Poem tur line ketar meaning):

1. This is history a reference to the old cemetery where the

British left

Behind their dead when they left India forever

2. The coma of an image that brings to mind a picture of death


Alienated decay dilapidation

3. Archaic very old, or of a very early period; used in conjunction

‗dead‘ suggests, perhaps, a sense of irrelevance due to being

very distant in time

5-6 A hundred….. the British cemetery fails to move the poet

Offends my ways

11 baleful menacing, or having a harmful effect

11 littoral relating to, or on the shore of the sea or lake

12 flaking history (This expression is used to suggest a remote,

Almost forgotten history.)

13-16 Awkward in the These lines strengthen the image of dark,

Silence,… brooding silence; the phrase‘ an alien name‘

Over an alien name could be a reference to the non-natives who

Lie buried in the cemetery.

17 epitaphs words written, or inscribed on a tombstone, in


Of a person who has died

17-20 In the circle… The names and other details on the epitaphs

Of our Lord, are not of interest to the poet; all that he

Eighteen notices is the fact that the graves belong to

Hundred… young Britishers who died of cholera in a

Distant land.

22 ennui listlessness arising from boredom

27-31 It is the cholera The deadly disease that brought to a tragic


…with ruin untimely end the lives of many young

Britishers long ago, is still the unconquered

Agent causing the death of countless young

Persons who could have led fruitful lives.

28 hump of earth refers to the round, raised mounds of earth or


33 vanquished country could refer to the fact that though the

Britishers have left; the country is still under

The yoke of diseases that kill

35 triumphant smile suggesting that the dead know that future

Generations too would fall a prey to the

Disease that cut short their lives so abruptly

37 the earth‘s brings to mind the powerful attracting force of

Unwavering gravity the earth that seems to be drawing human

Beings to itself, as well as its unchanging

40 to keep historyin contrast with ‗flaking history‘ of Line 12.

Awake suggests an effort at updating or renewal in

Order to retain interest and relevance

This is a perfectly crafted poem that displays Mahapatra‘s
brooding vision of life and the manner in which he transforms the
stark images of realism to the level of lyrical poetry. The poet
speaks of the effect that a visit to an old British cemetery has on
him, triggering off as it does thoughts of unvanquished diseases
snatching away the young to make them a part of the ever-
advancing realms of history. The poet‘s anguish is caused not by
the sight of the ancient graves of unknown Britishers, but by the
morbid thought of countless lives that continue to be needlessly
lost in their prime.
Composed in short stanzas of four lines each, the poem is full of
wordscapes created by beautiful and unusual images.

Summary and analysis of The Abandoned British Cemetary at


In the poem ―The Abandoned British Cemetery at Balasore‖, the

poet‘s reflections upon entering a cemetery in which a number of
young British lives lay buried, presents with a resigned, meditative
poise, the bond between death and the self. Death has laid its 'icy
hands' on the British conquerors and their tombs are only left
behind frequented by lizards and scorpions. The terror of
mutability(ai2 word maane tendency to change) is on the self and
there is no escape: through both past and present, the increasing
young into the final bone, wearying all truth with ruin. This is the
iron rusting in the vanquished country, the blood‘s unease the
useless rain upon my familiar window;
Amidst the silence of the thirty-nine graves, the poet‘s
reflections over the dead actually depict that eternal realization that
it is death that gives meaning to life. It is such moments of heart-
rending silence which defines ‗the shapes of solitude‘. Speaking of
silence in Ten Twentieth Century Indian Poets, Mahapatra himself
says: What appears to disturb me is the triumph of silence in the
mind […]
A poem makes me see out of it in all directions, like a sieve, and I
am almost relieved at that all-important thought.
The flux of life occupies an important place in Mahapatra‘s
domain of philosophy. He believes in life‘s great paradox of stasis-
in-movement and permanence in transience.

Summary By Me After Reading:

The poem is about the forgotten memories of the dead where the poet sees the
tombstones and reflects over the foreigner's lying dead and buried in the
cemetery, bringing to our memory the images and pictures of Raj Days and the
colonists on a mission or tour to India, in the heat, dust and humid conditions
doing the rounds and also to those times of epidemics when survival was almost
ngligible, hoping against hope.

It expresses how the cold hand of death has snatched away both wives an
children. This is evident whereby the author mentions Florence who is the
wife of Captain R and Helen daughter of Mr and Mrs J.S.

The author expresses how the great have easily been forgotten and
despite their contribution to the nation no one remembers them.

He expresses the painful reality of death, that once one dies nothing can
be done within the grave. There is no existing relationship between the
dead an the living.

He expresses how the only interaction within the grave is the living
creatures around the grave yard and the growing grass within the grave that
vanishes the memory completely.

The author clearly expresses how of no importance it would be for him

to know who survived and who succumbed to death's calamity. Whether
great or small all are forgotten.

He again expresses that only the dying young meaning those who want
to have fun and make most of their lives before growing old know what it
means to be alive.

Jayanta Mahapatra, in all his poems clarifies his stand that the past
cannot be blamed for all the ills of the present. In conclusion the author
expresses the sad reality of how once one dies his or her memories are
forgotten and are left to the mercies of the grave.