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Lakshmiprasad Devkota (1909-1959) When a truly great poet appears during an important phase in the development of a particular literature, the fortunes of that literature arc changed forever. All poets who follow are bound to the traditions that their great predecessor has established, even if it is only in the sense that these become the conventions against which they rebel, the norms from which they make their departures. The contributions made to the development of Nepali poetry by Bhanubhakta, Bhatta, Lekhnath, and Sama have been fundamental, yet Devkota stands head and shoulders above all of these. An American scholar of comparative literature has written, "In Devkota we see the entire Romantic era of Nepali literature" (Rubin 1980, 5), but this is an oversimplification or even an understate ment. In Nepali, Devkota's works have formed a colossal touchstone and are the undisputed classics of his language. In the short space of twenty-five years Devkota produced more than forty books, and his works included plays, stories, essays, translations from world literature, a novel, and poems that ranged in length from a 4-line rhyme to an epic of 1,754 verses. His writings were certainl extraordinarily profuse, but they were also remarkable for their intellectual and creative intensity.Devkota rarely returned to a poem to revise or edit, being in too great a hurry to commence his next composition, nor was he averse to using little-known dialect words to enrich his vocabulary . As a result, some poems suffer from obscurities that puzzle even the most scholarly Nepali reader. Nevertheless, little that Devkota wrote would now be considered dispensable. Born into a Brahman family in Kathmandu in 1909,Devkota was educated at the Durbar High School and Trichandra College in the capital and received a B.A. in 1930. Married at sixteen years of age,h 40 became a father at nineteen, and most of the rest of his life was a struggle to support his family, usually by teaching, although he briefly held governmental posts in later years. He often complained bitterly that it was impossible for him to earn a living from writing alone. A prey to deep depressions, Devkota was confined to an Indian mental home in 1939 and was almost suicidal after the death of his son in 1952. His life was a series of financial problems and personal sorrows, but through them all shone a personality of humor, warmth, and deep humanity. These persona] ups and downs never retarded the growth of his genius; in fact, some of his best humorous poetry was written in the most tragic circumstances. Certain events in Devkota's life, such as his pilgrimages to the mountain lakes north of Kathmandu in the 1930s, the time he spent in a mental hospital, his employment as a writer and translator from 1943 to 1946, and his subsequent political exile in Banaras can be identified as definite influences on his work. To some extent, however, Devkota's poetry often seems to have been a kind of "inner life" in which he found solace and optimism despite the trials of everyday life. The life and works of Lakshmiprasad Devkota have been described arid analyzed at length in scholarly works in Nepali (see, for instance, Pande I960; K. JoshI 1974; and Baridhu 1979) and in a recent study published in English to which readers are referred for more detailed biographical information (Rubin 1980). Because Devkota's oeuvre is so immense, and because his greatest achievementsare to be found in epics such as Shdkuntala Mahdkdvya, Sulochand, and Prometheus,the introduction and translations presented here offer only a glimpse of a talent that was unprecedented in Nepali poetry. Devkota's earliest poems reveal the powerful influence of English Romantic verse. Many of the poems collected in The Beggar (Bhikhdri) celebrate the fundamental goodness of humble people, as typified by "Sleeping Porter" (Nidnt Bhariyd), or look back with longing to the innocence of childhood: We opened our eyes to a glimmering world, in wonder we wandered freely, playing games celestial, running in bliss and ignorance Soon, however, Devkota began to spice his poetry with a flavor that was essentially Nepali, and Mund and Madan (Mund-Madan) marked an important stage in this development. Mund and Madan is based on an old Newar folktale (D. Shreshtha 1976) and derives much of its considerable charm from its simplelanguage and musical meter. Devkota broke new ground by becoming the first Nepali poet to employ the jhydure meter of the...


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