Focus on Books:
Buddhi’s Sinhala poems in English
Book: The Valley Below - Selected Poems
Author: Buddhadasa Galappaththy
Translator: Malini Govinnage
Publisher: Sarasavi Publishers
Price: Rs. 250 US$ 5
Page count: 120
At least three decades of creative activities on the part of
Buddhadasa Galappaththy has gone into the output of nine collections of
Sinhala poetry, commencing from 1971. To his credit he has been a short
story writer and a newspaper columnist, apart from being a radio and
tele artiste and a make up artiste.
But the dominant creative flush in his period of creativity had been
poetic creations of varying types. Though quite a number of his poems
have appeared from time to time translated into English and published in
various periodicals at home and abroad, we graced the occasion recently
of the launching of his volume of poems in English translation.
This occasion paved the way for most of us to gauge where
Galappaththy stands in the scene of modern Sinhala literature. At his
event held at Sri Lanka Foundation Institute, two books by Galappaththy
came out. A collection of Sinhala column writings that appears in a
Sinhala newspaper literary supplement.
The title is striking and goes as Sahurda Satahan. I am not going to
discuss this volume of columns, as it needs special emphasis on the
acidity in which Galappaththy tirades some of the culture vulturisms
prevailing amid us today. He too offers at times bouquets to those who
As such in simple terms it is a compendium of bouquets and brickbats
to the reader, which presumably needs preservation for the posterity.
But I would rather like to pen a few words about his collection of poems
selected and translated into English by Malini Govinnage.
Having read many translated poems, my first impression of Govinnage’s
translation is that they are identifiable not as translations or
adaptations, but as original pieces of creativity devoid of linguistic
I would like to follow this factor with examples such as ‘son of a
prostitute’ (13pp) ‘Alms for King Vessantara’ (15pp), ‘Jewelled lamp
stolen’ (21pp) ‘Both are daughters’ (27pp)
In the first reading of these poems I recalled what Stephen Spender
once said: Poetry is a criticism of language itself. In fact it is the
poets who make use of the language into best possible manner with
nuances such as brevity and clarity of the very use of language perhaps
introducing new forms of the language.
When all is said poetry, whatever the language it utilises,
creativity is concrete, personal and exact. We live in a time when
language tends to be used in ways that are abstract, generalised
impersonal and inaccurate.
There are various revolts against the misuse of language (a cry of
puritanism!) but poetry by dealing with contemporary experiences,
values, situations and aims, and expressing these in its own language of
the logic of the imagination measures the distance between the
standardised values of our world expressed in official language and
their values as personal experience.
If I am not mistaken the most effective power of strength in poetry
is the contemporary significance of the original poem as it is
experienced. In most of his poems, Galappaththy attempts to select
poetic experiences devoid of banalities, elevating the vision from the
common to uncommon.
This factor depends on how serious minded the poet should be. Though
not accepted, the contemporary Sinhala poetry is misunderstood on two
counts: first being the context, and the second being the structure. It
is accepted by a majority of practising young poets that the creative
task of poetry is simplified to the point that it is a matter of
expressing mere ideas, line underline more prosaic than poetry.
They too denote it by a term nisandes a misnomer which is deeply
rooted. But it should be nidahas or ‘free’ as against the conventional
rigid metrical pattern. Buddhadasa Galappaththy’s poetry as
reconstructed via translation by Govinnage belong to the latter than the
former. One classic example is the poem titled as ‘The Last Poem’
(113pp) reminiscent of the Yeatsian type of poetic vision, which
signifies a deeper sense of transience.
Meeting again is not possible
Without leaving and going away
You taught me the truth of the law and nature
Though you took leave of me Do you know the fragrance you left behind
Aches in my heart still (113pp)
It is believed that every line of true poetry, by insisting on the
individual nature of experience and on the element of play in life,
challenges this point of view on transience living in two cultures two
poets could challenge in two different ways. I observe that there is a
sensitive layer of religious conscience embedded in most of
Galappaththy’s creative works.
This element had seeped to an independent manner of expression via
English in the hands of the translator Malini Govinnage when all is said
and done the poetic experiences cannot be severed from individualistic
outlook we are living in a time which above all challenges the concept
of the individual.
The political ideologies and commercialism has gone so far
challenging this instance of the individual. Perhaps you may tend to
disagree with me. But may it be said in a fervent tone that these poems
as translated by Govinnage provide a sincere nature of this social and
political challenge thrust on an individual. But that individual, the
poetic persona, is none other than ourselves the poet and his reader.
The book launching ceremony of ‘Ahilam’ magazine was held
recently at Sri Krishna Bawan Hall, Hatton presided over by
former Director of Education K. Meiyanathan. Here the poet
S. Muralitharan addresses the gathering while Hatton-Dickoya
UC Chairman Dr. A. Nandakumar presents a prize to Miss
Yogaranee, the winner of the contest. Author of the magazine
‘Ahilam’ K. V. Ramasamy is also seen in the picture.
Photo by Aruna Ponnambalam, Kotagala group Corr.