Revolutionary Arts and Political Poetics: Kazi Nazrul Islam

religious fanaticism, racism, and socioeconomic oppression. Though the poet/composer spent much of his life in dire poverty, he nonetheless celebrated this condition, evident in his verse: “Poverty, you made me a great man / Given me the honor of Christ as he was adorned with the crown of thorns.” Armed with an indomitable spirit, Nazrul overcame considerable odds. His artistic career lasted twenty-two years, and in that relatively brief time he composed thousands of songs and poems. This career was cut short at age 43, when the poet/composer/musician was stricken with a neurological disease that caused permanent mental and physical loss. Compared to poet-activists Walt Whitman, Pablo Neruda, and Maya Angelou, Kazi Nazrul Islam’s legacy on the page – as an innovative, socially conscious, and politically active artist – is in many ways ongoing. Like other social justice poets, Nazrul was very much a humanist, a point made clear in his poem, “Man,” where he evocatively writes, “Of equality I sing, man comes first, / And there is nothing nobler than him. / Differences of cast and creed, / of ages and countries / Matter little.” Additionally, Nazrul’s work has been compared to the Romantic poets (Elizabeth Browning, Shelley, and Keats). Often, the test of an artist is that person’s relevance through time. Certainly, the contemporary global landscape – replete with increased sectarian violence, rigid fundamentalism, human rights violations, and asymmetrical assertions of power – makes pressingly relevant Nazrul’s twentieth-century call for sociopolitical coalitions, unity, and peace in the twenty-first century. Concomitantly, Nazrul’s artistic production – rooted in not only the revelation of human rights abuses but is equally committed to the declaration of human rights possibilities – provides a provocative and evocative foundation upon which to construct new sociopolitical movements.