Top 05 Poetic Devices found in Big Match,1983 by Yasmine Gooneratne

Big Match, 1983 by Yasmine Gooneratne is a retrospection of a grim period of time in Sri Lanka which is called Black July. In this post, the frequent poetic devices like: irony, allusion, metaphor, imagery and symbols are discussed. For other poetic devices you may read the Analysis of the poem here

Watch the video on the same content or keep on reading:


01. Irony

Irony plays a major role in and throughout the poem mainly to criticize the sequence of events and their root causes. Irony is three fold- as verbal, dramatic and situational. We commonly find situational and verbal irony in the poem.


Big match

The title of the poem itself a situational irony as the reader expect poem to be about a sports match. In contrary, the poet introduces a huge match stick which is used to light fire. This word play is called as word pun in literature.


‘it’s strange life we’re leading here just now,

not a dull moment, No one can complain

of boredom, that’s for sure. Up all night keeping watch

and then as curfew ends and your brave lads

dash out at dawn to start another day

of fun, and games, and general jollity,


The long extract is one of the best examples for verbal irony. It ironically shows the desperate and vulnerable nature of the victims of communal riots. This dialogue is uttered by the male person in the ‘tall house dim with old books and pictures.’ He casually speaks about his predicament with a neighbour via telephone. Though he says things are ok, the ironical truth behind the words of him tells another story. He uses the words: ‘not a dull moment, no one can complain of boredom’ to imply the high frequent nature of the mob attack to the houses and the uncertainty of their lives. And further, he introduces the mobs as ‘your brave lads’ to ridicule the false bravery of mobs. The introduction of regular violence as ‘another day of fun and games’ is an implication that the violent activities were mere games for enjoyment for some groups at that period of time.


‘…a stout man, sweating with fear, falls to his knees

beneath a bo-tree in a shower of sticks and stones

flung by his neighbour’s hand’


Next situational irony we see in the scene that a stout-man is brutally attacked by his neighbours under a bo-tree. The expected situation is that neighbours normally help each other in a disastrous situation in contrary the neighbours have become the victimizers instead of saviours. To deepen the irony, the poet uses ‘under the bo-tree.’ Bo tree is said to be a sacred place for Buddhist community. People bulling a person under the same place they worship questions the people’s morality, quality of humanity as well as their practice of religion.  


02. Metaphors

Metaphors are direct comparison of something to something else. For example: to attribute bravery to one, he can be addressed like: ‘you are a lion.’ At the beginning of the poem we can find two important metaphors.

Racial pot (boils over)

This is comparing the racial conflict to a pot which is boiling and spilling over at the moment of speaking. Racial pot coming to a boiling point means the gradual development of ethnic crisis between majority of Sinhala community verses Tamil minority in the country due to various reasons. After a few plunges, in 1983, the culmination out broke. This is how the newspapers announced the event at that time.

Sacrificial fire

We are reminded of ‘Sathi Pooja’, a ritual in ancient India, where the wife walks into the funeral pyre of her husband sacrificing her life after the departure of her husband. In the poem, it means the communal riots and its devastating ill-effects on the common masses. According to historical records, the riots out broke island wide making the whole country itself a sacrificial fire for a nation.


03. Allusions

There are some geographical and time allusions found in the poem which means, to understand the poem better, the reader has to have an idea why the places and years mentioned in the poem are important.

Time allusions

There are some years mentioned in the poem: first one is 1983 that is the year which the communal violence out broke. There are other years like: 1948, 1956 and 1958. Sri Lanka got liberated from British rule in 1945. However, after the liberation most of the fields in Sri Lankan economy and lucrative jobs were chaired by Tamil minority in the country. This created a spark of hurt to the majority of the country which created the small matchstick which fanned into the climax in 1983.

In 1956, as the poem says the ‘treacherous politics of language’ came into the scene. According to Wikipedia, 1956 is the year when ‘the Sinhala only act’ was established. This political move created Sinhala to be the official language. This deepened the dispute that was sparked in 1948. As a result of these gradual unrest, the first outburst was plunged in 1958. You can read about this further here.


Geographical allusions

There are two places mentioned in the poem that might be puzzling.  One is ‘Toronto’ a city in Canada, as history reveals many people who were affected by riots migrated to Canada and settled there. ‘Oval’ is one of the famous cricket ground in England which is famous for high scores. It is a paradise for batsmen and they score big runs there.


04. Imagery

The poem is like a movie with full of heart moving imagery. It has visual, kinaesthetic and auditory imagery creating the poem more of a complete experience of a documentary regarding the communal riots outburst in Sri Lanka.

There are visual imagery like ‘smashed bicycle’ and kinaesthetic imagery like ‘Sri Lanka burns alive’, ‘stout man sweating with fear/falls to his knees… in a shower of sticks and stones’ as well as auditory imagery like ‘clamouring telephone’, ‘bristle hundred guns.’ With the language rich in imagery, Gooneratne lets the reader to experience the poem while reading it.


05. Symbols

Symbols are secret messengers of poems, in the poem there some symbols which indirectly refer to things and people in the society.


Old books

In the fourth stanza reader can find ‘old books’ which are the symbol of ancient wisdom and knowledge. There are people and libraries that preserve the ancient knowledge for future generations. Here, in the poem, the person mentioned in the poem is ready to sacrifice his life to safeguard his intellectual treasure. The sad reality is, amid of a communal riot which is heated with hatred, there is only a narrow space for thoughts for these kind of valuable things. According to historical records, the largest South Asian library which was in Jaffna was burnt into ashes by the mobs.


Kakhi uniforms

Kakhi uniforms symbolize the law and enforcement in the country. ‘Blood on their kakhi uniform’ is a strong critical statement made about the role of law during the riots in 1983.



As mentioned before, Bo-tree is a sacred tree for Buddhists. It had given the support and shelter to Lord Buddha to attain supreme nibbana. People consider the tree possesses holy powers which help them to be safe from unknown spiritual forces. Therefore, the tree is in a way symbolic to the Buddhist community. Violating Buddhist principles under a symbol of Buddhism creates a critical statement about the role of religion at that period of time.

You will find more other poetic devices like: hyperbole, enjambment, word pun, parallelism, euphemism, simile …etc. in the poem. Through the range of poetic devices, the poetess has been able to create an impact message about the dreadfulness of a communal dispute which can kill humanity making a whole nation suffer.

This post is not meant to promote violence nor criticize any ethnic groups in the country but strongly for an educational purpose. If you have any suggestions to be made to update the post, please feel free to leave a comment below. Share the post if you find it useful.










Post a Comment