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Musical

Kamala Wijeratne in the poem “Musical” discusses the tragedy of war and her main focus is the
destruction of innocent youth who fight in war. In the first and second stanzas the reader is given a
picture of young, perhaps inexperienced, soldiers singing while they are traveling to North. Their
youthful innocence is captured effectively by the poet through lines such as “Happy they were / As they
drummed with their hands / And sang their songs / And beat their boots in rhythm.” It is apparent that
these soldiers have not seen the brutality of war.

The rhetoric questions (a question without an answer), “Was it their youth that brought the mist to my
eyes?” and “Was it the unbroken melody that left me uneasy?” illustrate the way the poet worries about
the young men’s fate. Then in the next verse (fourth) she refers to a scene of “caged parrots” with “the
green…fading from their feathers” and the reader can easily make the connection between the young men
in “their green-brown uniforms” and the parrots that the poet saw in a pet shop. Like in the case of the
parrots, these young men’s days too are numbered.

The poet wanted to buy the caged parrots and set them free to the forest “to sing all day” and it is
apparent that she feels the same way about the young soldiers who have sacrificed their youth to face a
tragic end.

“Musical” is a poem that criticizes war without taking a particular side. The poet in fact blesses the
soldiers and the ones they meet, their enemies who are also young men and women who have become a
part of war. In this manner the poet is against war and the killing of innocent lives and sees no beauty,
justice or nobility in war.

The last two stanzas of the poem mostly repeat the same lines that appeared earlier in the poem, by using
this kind of repetition, the poet reinforces the ideas of tragedy and the youthful innocence of these young
soldiers.

The poem uses colloquial language and it is in free verse with no regular rhyming scheme. It is given
through the eyes of a passer-by who sees the young men traveling to North and the first person narration
gives a personal aspect to the poem as the poet’s sadness (the scene has brought “mist” to her eyes and
they are “smarting” because of pain) is effectively communicated to the reader generating such emotional
responses in the reader as well.

As mentioned earlier in this essay, the poet makes a reference to “caged parrots” and this is an effective
symbol for the young soldiers.

Thus, Kamala Wijeratne talks about the tragedy of war and the loss of innocent youth who should have
spent their youth in a better way. Their singing of songs and their apparent joy show that even though
they are soldiers going to fight in a war, they are still young men. Even though her poem is based on Sri
Lankan situation (with clear references to war affected areas such as “north”), her subject and theme are
universal as war destroys innocent people whatever their nationality, caste or class may be.

Monuments

Like in “Musical”, in this poem “Monuments” also Kamala Wijeratne deals with the subject of war. The
poet is traveling in a bus and sees the “bus halts” built to commemorate the dead soldiers with their
names carved in them. These are the “monuments” referred to in the poem.

The poet does not see only one “monument” but repeatedly sees various legends in different bus stands,
“a new name every time but the story is old.” This draws attention to the way the war has caused the loss
of lives of many young soldiers.
Interestingly, the poet brings in the class dimension to the poem by commenting on one common name of
the young soldiers, “Bandara” which stands for “master of the soil” and these are the “Sons of those who
teased out paddy from this land.” In this manner, the poet points out that many of these young men come
from poor, farmer families and they may have joined the army because of their poverty.

The fifth stanza effectively captures the tragedy of war. These men, if they had not gone to fight in the
war, would have led a different life. They would have had a farmer’s life, and the poet moves on to a
description of the farming life with special focus on the harvesting period, the happiest and the most
anticipated period in a farmer’s life. She makes reference to the “Avurudu” (New Year) season through
words such as “koha” and “erabadu” which are common symbols (in Sinhala culture) for the period.
When the paddy is harvested, new rice is prepared and it is “Served steaming and scented by a mother’s
fond hands,” and this line creates a scene of perfect domestic happiness.

The sixth verse again comes back to the reality and describes the “inscriptions” which “hug the white
walls.” The contrast of this scene with the joyful scene presented in the last stanza perfectly captures the
destruction and futility of war.

Kamala Wijeratne includes the most emotional commentary on war in the last stanza and in this instance
the poet imagines the plight of the parents and loved ones who have lost the young men who went to war.

A farmer in a muddied loin cloth haunts me

And a housewife with billowing sleeves and string of beads

The last line, though brief, tells a sad tale focusing on the suffering of these poor parents who have lost
their son, “And their faces are stern with unshed tears” which questions the whole purpose and the logic
behind war.

In the poem Kamala Wijeratne criticizes war which destroys both the lives of soldiers who are directly
part of it and also the lives of their loved ones who have to lead a “living death” every day with horrible
pain and suffering. The silent “Monuments” in this way speak against the total devastation caused by
war.

Like in “Musical,” Kamala Wijeratne in her poem uses colloquial language. Even though there are
rhyming words in the poem, such as “load”, “road”, walls” “halts”, there is no regular rhyming scheme.
Then there is repetition of lines such as “Served steaming and scented” which reinforces the picture of
domestic happiness, which the soldiers would have enjoyed if they had not gone to war. The visual
images such as “a farmer in a muddied loin cloth” successfully convey the social status of the young
soldiers.

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