Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 27 February 2011





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Many forms of love poetry

Love poetry takes many forms, and I thought it would be interesting to set against each other three very different examples of the expression of passion. The first is by Gunadasa Amerasekera, who was better known as a novelist, before his current prominence as a social critic. The poem here makes clear however his skill as a lyricist too - though those familiar with the original might feel, brilliant though Lakshmi de Silva's translation seems to me, that translation can never capture such feelings.

Unduvap had come

Near the stile to the upper field, beside our little well
Like a cloth spread over the mango tree, buds burst in a golden shower;
Bloom-bearing Unduvap has come to stir the limbs awake;
This is the time, Sandavati*, when the quickened earth will flower.

As though after long sleep the earth had stirred and started to break
Into newborn fresh green clumps of grass, it pulsates against the soles;
Fleshy red erabadu petals recall smooth cheeks to me
Surely all this must be for us, to make our bodies wake.

My lips and cheeks, like a flower where bees have alighted, quiver
Impatient to savour these delights with joy all unconfined;
Bloom-bearing Unduvap will go when the year grows older, colder,
But before it dies soon in the Durutu gloom
Let there be time, let there be chance for quickened earth to bloom.

Dazed by the moon's white brilliance, the trees with lifted foliage
Waiting, yearning in the night, intoxicated stand
My body tingles urgent now under that moon to taste delight;
Come, Sandavati, come to drink deep of the moonlight's loveliness.

The clusters of the mango flowers, this great-mooned month of Unduvap
Will soon go from us; the drowsy chill of Durutu will have its hour.
Before my drooping body turns to huddle in that cold month's sleep
Oh give me the chance, let there be time for quickened earth to flower.

* Moonface - the ideal of female beauty

Nuhman's poem, translated by Chelva Kanaganayakam, deals with a more spiritual emotion, though it is expressed with similar intensity. Both Nuhuman and Chelva are distinguished university academics, as Lakshmi is, and I would like to think that some cerebral intensity is also required to express feelings so evocatively. The shift from a sense of desiccation to new burgeoning passion is movingly conveyed, before the poet lapses again into thought and worry.


Within my heart, in every pore
lies unplucked a splendid heap,
a thousand buds of the tree of youth

The flower of passion as is its wont
blooms in plenty and fades away

The fallen leaves fade
and new flowers bloom to take their place
The blown petals fall and fade once more
The flower still fresh I yearn to give
but no soft hand to touch
to take
as my days drew heavily on

You came to dispel
you stood waiting all alone
your eyes expressed
the fragrance of a flower
newly bloomed

To meet is nothing
but was this long awaited meeting
Just one more?

Within your heart
in every pore
lie unplucked a thousand buds

The flower of passion
as is its wont
blooms in plenty and fades away

All these within you wanted to give
just like me, you too had waited
interminable days
for someone to come

The rightness of mingling
two hearts
locked and yearning
you revealed to me
The joy of mingling
two hearts
locked and yearning,
you revealed to me

Your flower
your fragrant thought
you granted to me through passionate lips

Your mellow lips plucked the passion within
as each moment grew and blossomed
the fruits of your breast pressed on my chest
those fleeting moments stay fresh in my mind

I stepped across the open door
into your house
My lips grew wet
they are still moist
your lips so soft
lie imprisoned within my own

To meet is nothing
to meet and part
that too is nothing

In my dreams
in my thoughts
you arrive and depart

In your dreams
in your thoughts
perhaps I too
would arrive and leave

You and your thoughts
the load of your thoughts
like lengthening shadows in fading dusk
grow in my mind
and burden my heart

Finally I present one of the first poems Richard de Zoysa showed me, before he felt confident enough to admit to writing poetry himself. I thought it immensely powerful, though I did not fully understand it, and had to be enlightened by my students, for whom I set it as a test of practical criticism. Over the years, as Richard bought a motor-cycle and learned to ride it, falling off regularly, the poem became a symbol for us of growing pains. The associations with death seemed unimportant at the time, though the long forgotten poem recurred when, a few years back, a BBC radio play about Richard was broadcast, and a friend described him roaring off on his bike for the last time.

OH BOY ...............
Oh boy that Honda!
flashing down the road
flesh blood bone
leather metal
rubber burning
thunder and lightning.

too quick for the eye's slow dilation

The rider, describing a dark circle in air
came to rest at any feet.

Like that, the body on concrete snapped in two
and the clean white edge of bone came bursting though


the way for an affair to have ended
a sickening snap
a vertebral break that cannot be mended.

Not as ours did.

Semen injected direct as an S.O.S. measure
emergency heart massage
vibratory massage
all that mouth to mouth
mouth to anywhere
not to mention the regular drip of saline
(non-medically tears, or crying)
prevents that ECG
bottoming out in a straight line
(in lay terms dying)



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