Heated Issues Discussed in Sri Lankan Poems in Advanced Level Syllabus


This post by Hasanki Kasthuriarachchi discusses about the descriptive topic How Modern Sri Lankan poets are very much interested in conveying the theme of violence, injustice, racial and political issues focusing on two poems in the A/L syllabus.

When analyzing the modern Sri Lankan poems in the A/L anthology, only three of the Sri Lankan poems are included. Among those three poems, Fernando’s poem evaluates the impermanency of life through a series of poetic metaphors and several techniques while the rest two vividly depicts the themes of violence, injustice, and rational and political issues through their context. Thus today’s post is about how the two poems ‘Animal Crackers’ by Richard De Zoysa and Vivimarie Vanderpoorten’s piece of work ‘Explosion’ vehemently express the aforesaid themes.

As history records, the backdrop to the poem Animal Crackers is the communal disturbance that occurred in July 1983 due to a clash between Sri Lankan Army and Tamil militants and the incidents that followed. This incident darkened the lives of Sri Lankan putting their lives into a turmoil. The poet is intense in conveying racial violence through his poetic lines.

“Just a party down the lane

A bonfire, and some fireworks, and they’re burning”

The poet elucidates how crucial the people are. But to the depth, the racial violence started as poem depicts mainly as a result of riots started by racial mobs and passive extremists. The pathetic part of the situation as poet tries to highlight is the innocents who underwent the torture are not the real culprits who created the violent situation. Thus the mobs who were encouraged by the situation made the whole country turn a blind eye to this situation. Therefore, Zoysa conveys the themes of violence through his poem in a quite suitable aspect of tense background.

Similarly, in Explosion Vanderpoorten deals with the historical incident of the central bank explosion as the core of the poem. The poem merges as a great piece of work that elucidates the theme of violence and political issues vividly. The poetess vividly showcases how terrorism affects innocent lives in the country, in a pathetic way.

‘The nearby vegetable seller’s

hands were severed

like cucumbers’

The simile ‘like cucumbers’ brings out visual imagery of a brutal incident where innocent people face severe casualties and harsh death even though they have nothing to do with politics or racial extremism. Thus the theme of injustice is comprehended in the short lines of the poem since innocent people had to die brutally because of the people with extreme motives. The poet seems to question whether that can be justified on any ground. It is obvious unjustness faced by innocent civilians. Thus violence and injustice are reiterating themes throughout the poetic lines.

Zoysa manipulates how politics act as a theme in his work Animal Crackers using symbols to hint the responsible parties indirectly.

‘The Elephant sways in his shaded arbor,

wrinkles his ancient brows, and wonders

if, did he ventures out to quell this jungle-tide

of rising flame, he’d burn his tender feet

The poet satirizes the governing party of the country at that time. It is quite explicit that the president or the governing party of the country, depicted as the animal imagery of ‘Elephant’, turned a blind eye towards the escalating racial violence, considering how badly affects such movements to their carrier. The poet turns the finger to the governing party directly. As the poet points out, If the government acted rationally and logically towards the situation, it would have been resolved in a quite different way. Because of the incapability of the government, the whole country turned into hell out of hatred, remaining a black mark to the whole nation. Thus the theme of political issues is pervasively depicted in Animal Crackers.

While considering violence as a theme, Vanderpoorten conveys how much hatred can turn a person or more into a beast.

‘Women in sari

held their eyeballs in their palms and blood-spattered

the streets,

erasing memory’

The poet seems to raise the questions: who could these ‘women’ be? Could any of them be related to the chaos in any aspect? The answer is obviously a big NO! They would be the government officers who worked at the bank. Some perhaps the customers who came for bank-related work. Poet questions the reason for the innocents to perish. As poem clearly reveals terrorism is callous that it can go to any extent of hatred, and even killed duty-conscious natives and terrorism is sick that inhumanely destruct lives at any age; at any time; at any place. Vanderpooten uses her lines under the themes of violence and injustice casted by extreme activists in Sri Lanka.

When we discuss the modern Sri Lankan poets, who penned about violence, injustice, and political issues; we cannot forget the poem ‘Big Match, 1983’ by Yasmine Gooneratne. Even though the poem does not include in the A/L anthology, the backdrop to the context is parallel to Animal Crackers. Gooneratne too satirically conveys how the destructive actions of racial mobs turn out a ‘sacrificial fire’ to many innocents.

Zoysa further sheds light on the theme of racism in a mild way. He seems to highlight the fact that the rioting mobs might have known that innocent Tamils in Colombo had no connection to any violent act that happened and they still took revenge from them. They try to make themselves sublime by making innocent natives suffer. The poet vividly depicts his sarcasm to the racial mobs who lost glory, humanity, and compassion. The title of the poem ‘Animal Crackers’ itself elucidates the insanity and bestial bestiality of the chauvinists.

To sum up, most of the modern Sri Lankan poets show interest in themes such as violence, injustice, and racial and political issues, perhaps as a country Sri Lanka a firsthand experienced of it. Consequently, modern Sri Lankan poets are encouraged by the historical incidents of the country to bring up their masterful pieces of work.

What are your views on the thematic concerns mentioned here? The facts and information mentioned here are totally based on the views of the poems and there has been no intention to harm or defame any community here - The writing is mainly based on exam purposes and academic reading. If you find this post is useful to others, please share it. If you have comments regarding Hasanki’s post, kindly leave it below.  

Post a Comment