Indian Poetry In English Critical Essays On Paradise

Balachandra Rajan (March 24, 1920 – January 23, 2009[1][2]) was an Indian diplomat and a scholar of poetry and poetics.

Life and career[edit]

Focusing particularly on the poetry of John Milton, Rajan was Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Western Ontario and Rajan was Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge from 1944–1948, but left England to return to his native India, where he served in the Indian Foreign Service until 1961. During that period he served on the Indian Delegation to the United Nations, working extensively with UNESCO and UNICEF, and chairing an international anti-malaria effort.[3] He served as Chairman of the UNICEF Executive Board from 1955 to 1956. Leaving his diplomatic career to return to academe, Rajan taught at the University of Delhi before emigrating to Canada to take up a position at the University of Western Ontario.[4]

Rajan's scholarly work covered a wide range of English poetry, but returned frequently to Milton and particularly to Milton's Paradise Lost. His work cannot be easily assigned to any critical methodology; he was a scholar of poetics in many forms and from many approaches. His 1947 book Paradise Lost and the Seventeenth Century Reader is primarily a response to Milton's apparent interest in Arianism, considered a heresy, and argues for a distinction between private and public meaning in Milton's poetry. The book was influential for William Empson, particularly Empson's critique of strictly theological readings of Paradise Lost, Milton's God.[5] Later essays explore what Rajan calls "generic multeity" in Paradise Lost.

In addition to his work on Milton, Rajan's later criticism addresses issues of meaning, intention, and context in a broad array of writers including Spenser, Yeats, Marvell, Keats, and Macaulay.Rajan considered 'poetry cannot report the event, it must be the event.'[6]

Rajan also wrote two novels. The Dark Dancer is a sobering study of the conflicts of the Partition;[7]Too Long in the West, on the other hand, is a more light-hearted satire (perhaps influenced by Tagore's Farewell, My Friend) about a girl's return to her home village after an emancipating education in New York.[8]

Rajan's daughter is the scholar and literary theorist Tilottama Rajan, who also teaches at Western.[4]

Critical Works[edit]

  • Paradise Lost and the Seventeenth Century Reader. London: Chatto and Windus, 1947. Reprinted Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1967.
  • W.B.Yeats: A Critical Introduction. London: Hutchinson University Library, 1965.
  • The Lofty Rhyme: A Study of Milton's Major Poetry. London: Routledge, 1970.
  • The Overwhelming Question: A Study of the Poetry of T.S. Eliot. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1976.
  • The Form of the Unfinished: English Poetics from Spenser to Pound. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985.
  • Under Western Eyes: India from Milton to Macaulay. Durham: Duke University Press, 1999.
  • Milton and the Climate of Reading: Essays. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006.


  • The Dark Dancer. New York: Simon and Schuster,1958.
  • Too Long in the West. New York: Atheneum, 1962.


External links[edit]

  1. ^Rajan, Tilottama – Romantic Narrative: Shelley, Hays, Godwin, Wollstonecraft
  2. ^"Western mourns loss of Milton scholar". Western News. University of Western Ontario. January 28, 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-29. 
  3. ^"U.N. Fund to Spur War on Malaria". The New York Times. March 5, 1955. 
  4. ^ abTamburri, Rosanna (November 8, 2004). "Academic Dynasties". University Affairs. Archived from the original on August 8, 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-24. 
  5. ^Empson, William (1965). Milton's God (2nd ed.). London: Chatto and Windus. pp. 34–35. 
  6. ^Rajan B., 'The Overwhelming Question:A study of the Poetry of T S Eliot' University of Toronto Press, Toronto 1976
  7. ^Morton, Frederic (June 29, 1958). "New Truths, Old Values". The New York Times. 
  8. ^Poore, Charles (February 20, 1962). "Books of The Times: Too Long in the West". The New York Times. 

There are basically three ways of approaching Indian English poetry: as an extension of English poetry, as a part of Commonwealth poetry, or as a part of Indian poetry. The first approach is largely outdated today, while the second, though still current, has gradually yielded to the third.

When Indians first began to write poetry in English, they were outnumbered by Eurasians and Englishmen who also wrote poetry on Indian subjects. Hence, poetry by Indians was not distinguished from poetry by non-Indians. Indeed, both types were published by the same publishers, the Indian subsidiaries of British publishers such as Longman or Heinemann, or by the English newspapers and magazines of India, which were usually owned and edited by Eurasians or Englishmen. Most Indian English poets were educated by Englishmen in Anglophone schools; like other English poets, they studied English literature. Because India was a part of the British Empire, Indian English poets did not have a strong national identity, and their early efforts were considered to be a tributary of the mainstream of English literature. Anglo-Indian literature was the term used to denote their poetry, the implication being that this was English literature with Indian themes. The term referred primarily to the literature produced by Englishmen and Eurasians in India, though it also included work by “native” Indians. The first scholarly work on Anglo-Indian literature was Edward Farley Oaten’s A Sketch of Anglo-Indian Literature (1908), a condensed version of which was included in the Cambridge History of English Literature (1907-1914), edited by A. C. Ward. Oaten’s primary concern was with English writers such as Jones, Sir Edwin Arnold, and Rudyard Kipling, and Oaten made only passing reference to Indian writers in English. With India’s independence from Britain and the withdrawal of the British from India, Anglo-Indian literature, defined as literature written by Englishmen in India, more or less came to an end. On the other hand, literature by Indians in English increased, gradually evolving an indigenous tradition for itself. Consequently, Oaten’s approach became untenable in dealing satisfactorily with Indian English literature. Nevertheless, it continues to have a few adherents—among them George Sampson, who, in The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature (1970), contends that Indian English literature is a tributary of mainstream English literature.

Another approach, initiated by scholars in England in the early 1960’s, is to consider Indian English literature as a part of Commonwealth literature or the literature of former British colonies and dominions such as Canada, Australia, the West Indies, and countries in Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, based at the University of Leeds, has done much to foster such an approach. Later, academics in the United States attempted to see Indian English poetry as a part of a global literature in English. The journal WLWE: World Literatures Written in English represents this approach. These approaches are fairly useful when the focus is large and the scholar is located in the United States or the United Kingdom, but they share the problem that the literatures of the various nationalities have little in common and often belong to different traditions: for example, Nigerian English literature and Australian literature. Nor does such an approach serve very well when one literature, such as Indian English poetry, is studied in depth. It then becomes clear that labels such as “Commonwealth literature” or “world literature in English” simply help to provide a forum for these literatures in Western academia and...

(The entire section is 1530 words.)


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