Analysis of Don’t Talk to me about Matisse by Lakdasa Wickkramasinha

 

Matisse is the leader of the artistic movement called Fauve Style prevailed in 1900. van Gogh and Gaugin were the earlier experimentalists of this style. The critic Louis Vaxcelles introduced these artists as Fauves - means ‘wild beasts’ due to their aggressive style of painting.  Fauve style is famous to the use of pure brilliant colour aggressively applied straight from the paint tubes to create a sense of an explosion on the canvas.

The artist and the art are usually associated with sensitivity and much positive human feelings. In this poem, contrarily, the reader does not find that peace of mind while going through the lines. The mood is quite disturbing, irritating and the tone of the speaker is quite complaining and disrespecting. In the poem, the poet tries to put down the superior notion of Western influence on post colonized countries and he seems to be critical and emotionally hurt about the way the certain colonial artists found their sources of arts which according to the poet, seem to be quite barbaric, not suitable for a sensitive subject area like art and painting.

Lakdasa Wickkremasinha is a Sri Lankan poet. The language style used by him is usually filled with local names and idiomatic phrases. However, this poem written by Wikkramasinha shows a deviation from his usual writing style expanding and showing his vitality as a poet writing in English language.

 

Stanza-Wise Analysis

 

Don’t talk to me about Matisse, don’t talk to me

about Gauguin, or even

the earless painter van Gogh,

& the woman reclining on a blood – spread…

the aboriginal shot by the great white hunter Matisse

with a gun with two nostrils, the aboriginal

crucified by Gauguin the syphilis-spreader, the yellowed

obesity.

 

free verse – supports the speaker’s stream of consciousness.

imperative form: starts with a conversational form, the rejection and disgust is clearly visible.

repetition: don’t talk to me – emphasizes the speaker’s attitude towards the poets

visual imagery: the woman reclining on a blood-spread/ a gun with two nostrils/ the aboriginal crucified/ yellowed obesity/ earless painter– the images are quite disturbing, dangerous, sick and feverish.

caesura: &/… (emotional pauses, gives the poem a living breathing quality, the reader can feel the sighing, rage and hesitation of the speaker) 

word pun: aboriginal shot – shot can be a camera capture as well as a gunshot; one gets a picture and other kills.

colour symbols: white –represents colour discrimination/ yellow – sick and feverish

allusion: yellowed obesity – Gauguin’s Yellow Christ and with Obesity speaks of the use of contrasting and vivid colour palette, which Gauguin employs in gay abandon in his paintings without losing the integrity of whole painting. / syphilis - a common venereal disease caused by the treponema pallidum spirochete; symptoms change through progressive stages; can be congenital (transmitted through the placenta) – poet calling Gauguin as the syphilis-spreader is an accusation to the Western colonizers who enforced their power up to sexual exploitation on natives. / woman reclining on a blood-spread – a paint by Matisse. / white hunters – some people in Western countries drawn to colonized countries like Africa mainly to experience hunting animals and they were called as white hunters by the natives.

 

The speaker keeps on speaking about things which seems to be not sequentially connected. They seem to be the speaker’s stream of consciousness under the force of emotional rage. His introduction about famous impressionist artist is quite harsh and degrading. He uses degrading modifiers like ‘earless painter’, ‘syphilis-spreader’, ‘white hunter’ to introduce them which clearly indicates his attitude towards the artists.  The images created by ‘the woman reclining on a blood – spread…’, ‘the aboriginal crucified’ are quite disturbing. Some critics says that these are true incidents taken place in most colonized countries like Africa and Asia, some critics reveal that the paintings had been done by creating real-life examples using natives, which is an alarming revelation of how the Western colonizers treated the natives in an inhuman, barbaric way.  

 

Don’t talk to me about Matisse…

the European style of 1900, the tradition of the studio

where the nude woman reclines forever

on a sheet of blood.

 

euphemism: the woman reclining on blood -reduces the effect of the dead woman to a woman is in a resting position (nobody rests while bleeding!)

allusion: European style of 1900 – impressionist movement, the Fauve Style.

symbol: blood – blood symbolizes life and death.

visual imagery: the nude woman reclines on a sheet of blood.

 

Wickkramasinha seems quite critical about the subject matters chosen by the artists. Some critics believe Matisse had succumbed a black woman to bleed and done his painting. The poet is questioning and revealing about the behaviours of such colonizers who treated the natives in a barbaric way. According to the speaker, the painting on the studio wall is a disturbingly- realistic image about the ill-effects of colonization where the natives were considered as non- human beings and primitive; quite ironic right?  

 

Talk to me instead of the culture generally

how the murders were sustained

by the beauty robbed of savages: to our remote

villages the painters came, and our white-washed

mud-huts were splattered with gunfire.

 

metaphor: the beauty robbed of savages – the Western colonizers, here the artists.

visual imagery: white-washed mud huts / splattered with gunfire

 

The speaker invites the anonymous listener to speak about more specific and known subject related to their cultural context. Here the poet mentions about his country, Sri Lanka. He reveals how the Sri Lankan culture had been affected by the Western colonizers.  He introduces them as ‘the beauty robbed of savages’ accusing them as people who had no care about the native culture, tradition, natural beauty nor the ways of lives of the natives. He accuses them as robbers who took those away and considered natives as savages or uncivilized set of people. By mentioning ‘murders’ the poet not only consider about killing but also destruction of the culture generally. The speaker generally introduces the colonizers as ‘painters’ who came to the villages and intervened the simple lifestyle of Sri Lankans and threatening and shattering their way of life. The ‘white-washed mud huts were splattered with gunfire’ is a strong comment on the influence of colonizers on native Sri Lankan who lived in humble abodes created by wattles.  

You may read Analysis of Discarded Tins by Lakdasa Wikkaramasinha here.

 

Lakdasa Wickkramasinha achieves the end of the poem with a ruthless, unfair and single minded commenting, seemingly disparaging of the three artists. What are your comments regarding a native voicing - his possible experiences related to his country? Would you rationalize his idea of criticizing the artists considering them as a whole body of colonizers? Please, kindly leave a comment below regarding your ideas.

(p.s. – this post is written only for academic purposes; the writer does not have any intention to criticize anyone or any nationality.)

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